Power to the Pupils

Thursday, 8th March 2007 at 11:53 UTC 1 comment

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.


Entry filed under: Education, Participation.

Every creation has an ugly side Where have all the anti-slavery campaigns gone?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Helen  |  Tuesday, 13th March 2007 at 21:20 UTC

    If I had my way, all schools would become just like Summerhill, except for the fees, naturally, and this would start from the age of five. It frustrates me that children are treated in a way that contradicts how we teach them to behave towards others, and that they’re encouraged to treat adults in a way that no self-respecting person would behave, ie. teenagers are treated with mistrust, suspicion and condescension, and they’re supposed to respond to adults with blind obedience and unconditional respect.

    Then when they become adults we expect them to question authority and display independence of thought. Right.

    We had a school council but the only people who signed up to be in it wanted to get out of lessons. The rest of us would rather be in lessons than school council. This is because we’d pretty much realised that we couldn’t change anything


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