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'Why pupils should have a say in how we're taught'

One student at an independent school explains how, as a designated 'Don', she gives feedback on teaching

At one indpendent schools have been given the status of 'Dons' to feedback on teaching

One student at an independent school explains how, as a designated 'Don', she gives feedback on teaching

In my school, I am known as a "Don". And I get to give feedback to teachers on what we learn and how we learn it. 

The Dons are student leaders for each of the important elements of the school. Primarily, they are associated with academic departments – so, the Don of biology, or Spanish, for example – though other areas of school also have a Don, such as the library.

What do they do? Some help lead activities for younger students. Others organise external speakers and take responsibility for the extracurricular societies. They pop up at the A-level Choices Fair to tell potential subscribers "what it’s really like". They offer lesson and curriculum feedback to heads of department. And they lobby for changes in what or how they are taught.

An inclusive system

You can read the teacher perspective on this programme in the 26 October issue of Tes, but here is my view. 

We pride ourselves on our good relationships with our teachers. So it would seem flawed not to have a strong link between pupils and staff, where feedback can be given by students on what we really think about our subjects.

Although the teachers are approachable and eager to help, the Dons are more easily available and are perhaps a less intimidating route for feedback. As a Don, I believe that being given this voice is an important responsibility, as the student voice is shown to be valued, and we can encourage a broader love and understanding of the subject.

Full feedback

As PRE (philosophy, religion and ethics) Don, I meet with my head of subject at break times over a cup of tea to discuss the topics younger years enjoy and those they don’t. We’re also in the process of establishing activities, such as ethical debates and asking philosophers to give lectures at the school for all years. It’s a way of inspiring others to become involved and to want to improve.

At the end of the school year, we have a Don feedback session, in which each year group is given the chance to voice their opinions about the syllabus and what they would like to see happen in the near future, whether it is study sessions or extracurricular events.

It allows us Dons to benefit the school community by making learning more active and insightful.

I think that the Dons enhance a sense of community between teachers and students without there being any sense of hierarchy. They are there to work with students and allow other pupils to have a voice and ideas, which adds to the richness of education.

Flora Smeeton is a pupil at Bedales School in Hampshire

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