Power to the Pupils
The Commons Education Select Committee has said that every school should have a School Council. The idea, for those who don’t know, is that students elect representatives who attend meetings periodically and make their opinions known on key issues. Here’s my thoughts on whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing…
The first problem I have with this is that, once upon a time, I was a School Councillor on a council with almost no substantive power whatsoever. We weren’t stupid, we could see that the agenda was being set for us and that every time we went against the head’s wishes, we got nowhere.
Other than that the Tories didn’t support this recommendation (commitment to democracy guys? oh never mind) is that its acknowledged that ‘well run’ councils must have the power to make changes, and that this is seen as being part of citizenship lessons: damn, and I thought they’d recommend having whole school assemblies for change, rather than ingraining the concept of abdication-to-representatives from an early age. Unfortunately, my second problem, this type of system could easily narrow children’s vision for participation as much as it could expose them to the power of grass roots decision making.
In Participatory Studies I’ve looked at something called Arnstein’s Ladder. If you take a look at it, you’ll see it has 8 rungs in 3 categories. My council experiences may have at times reached level 4 (Consultation) but often felt nearer level 2 (Therapy, attempting to demonstrate that the decision already taken is the right one).
While I commend this idea, and still manage to find it quite exciting, I really hope that what is intended is more along the lines of those Councils which do seem to hand at least a small but noticeable level of control to students, and which encourage them to seek greater participatory avenues in later life, rather than settle for those which are given to them.