Why aren’t students given more of a say in education?


by Guest    
10:00 am - March 17th 2012

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contribution by Paul Pennyfeather

Imagine a system whose entire purpose is to serve a group of people. Imagine that this same system excludes that group of people from holding any power. Such is the relationship between the British Education System and its students.

No school in the UK has any obligation to listen to its students. The representative bodies which exist are rarely more than symbolic.

A very small number of students are allowed to express their feelings on the running of the school but there is no process for using their feedback.

It is inconceivable that any other public service or business would entirely ignore the views of their key stakeholders. This failure to listen is to waste countless opportunities to improve.

It is also entirely at odds with the way our society has come to recognize and respect the rights of children.

Students should have the chance to feedback on the teaching they receive. While they may not have an in-depth understanding of pedagogy, they have a knowledge that no expert has; they know what works for them.

At the end of each week, students could rate the activities that they had undertaken in class. Teachers would then be able to look through the responses and get a clear idea of the actual experience of those they teach.

Some students would not take the process seriously or might base ratings on their personal opinions of that teacher rather than the merits of the activities. Yet the vast majority would respect this opportunity to have a say. Some teachers would be sceptical but most would find the information fascinating and useful.

Students should have input into what they study. Clearly there are core skills which students need to acquire, whether they wish to or not. Yet they could decide on how they gained these skills. In History, students could select the period they study. The fact that they made the decision is likely to boost their engagement with the subject.

Students should contribute to the code of discipline that they have to abide by. To many this notion seems irresponsible. Surely, if given the opportunity, students would seek to dismantle the rules that restrict them?

It is well-established, however, that most students are content in a calm and well-structured environment. They dislike chaos and recognize that a clear system of well-enforced rules is the best way to achieve this. Students also have a very well-developed sense of fairness; even well-behaved students respond very badly to perceived injustice.

By opening up a dialogue, school authorities would be able to gain an understanding about what is seen as unfair and then judge these concerns. More than anything else, it is inconsistency that undermines discipline. When one teacher enforces a rule and another doesn’t, students are left confused and frustrated. Listening to students would give a precise picture of the consistency with which rules were being applied.

Such a transferral of power would improve the service that schools provide. As significantly, school would cease to be only a place students attend and become an institution that they own.

—-
Paul Pennyfeather blogs more regularly at The Blackboard Diaries.

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Reader comments


Hard to know where to start with this. Yes, students want a calm and ordered environment. So why propose a system that will cause chaos? Take one example: In History, students could select the period they study”. OK. So, let’s say I am teaching year 8 History. I have 28 pupils in my class. Ten of them have decided they want to study the 1960s. Two of them are keen on the Jacobeans. Five of them are vaguely medieval fans because they like The Lord of the Rings. Three proto-thugs want to do the Nazis. The rest don’t care. Where do I start? What can the 1960s group grasp without a knowledge of, say, the second world war? How do I get the medieval group to understand the world of 1350 if they’ve never done any history of periods remotely close? And what do I do with the ones who don’t care?
What’s so wrong with letting experts get on with their job? What’s proposed here is akin to the push for patients to rate doctors – as if any of them had a clue what constituted a good doctor, or what the context of the job was. I really had to check it wasn’t April 1st.

Perhaps you should ask them about tuition fees

For the under 18s, the parents are the stakeholders.
Can’t see any mention of parents, guardians or family.
Why not?

It’s an interesting concept that education is solely for the benefit of the students. I accept that they receive some benefit from it, but that, in the main, comes from being prepared for life after full time education. The beneficiaries from education are the organisations that come after education, so secondary schools benefit from primary school pupils being taught to read, write and become competent at mathematics. Universities and employers gain from pupils educated to a level that remedial support is not needed for them to be able to function in that environment.

What should pupils decide? Curriculum? Exams? Do you think they’d make decisions that would really benefit them? When education becomes voluntary then they vote with their feet, but until then, it should be the next stage of life.

Paul,
Isn’t there a danger that this is just a recipe for adult abdicating responsibility for the well-being of young people?

6. the a&e charge nurse

There are some forums for feedback – such as websites like ‘rate my teacher’.

Mind you some teachers think it is only fair that there should be a ‘rate my pupil’ site as well – ‘Frank Chalk’ came up with this suggestion
“Shane is a Year 11 pupil and apprentice hooligan. He is a habitual thief, with the educational abilities of lettuce. When he plays truant the whole staffroom cheers”.

Anyway how do we go about canvassing views of approximately 8.5 million children who attend school in the UK?

My response to this got way too long so I’ve made it into a blogpost:
http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/why-students-arent-given-more-of-a-say-in-education/

Short answer, you’re wrong.

@Stuart @Paul

The current system of “sponsored” academies the government is creating removes even any parental voice, by reducing elected parent governors to a nominal, marginal representation on governing bodies at best. The whole thrust of education policy in the last 20 years has been to reduce teacher voice in the running of schools also; heads are now so powerful that most teachers are simply implementing policies decided at senior management level (or “sponsoring” company level) rather than making professional decisions which should be taken at classroom level.

So the idea that parents or pupils should have input into lessons is fanciful in the current system which is moving towards greater centralised control of schools by senior executives in remote private companies dictating the running of schools.

I am convinced that Britain would be much better off moving to the opposite direction from that proposed in OP: make Frank Chalk the dictator, and see learning results soar.

10. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Ultimately these comments highlight the relationship bewteen children and the state and in the rearing of those children for a future workforce. Ultimately education can be viewed functionally which reduces the scope for individual choice or individually which widens choice. Sadly, many argue that by widening choice, students will opt for easy subjects (the path of least resistance) hence the growth in non science subjects and the decline in science.
Regretably it is difficult to build bridges or design areoplanes with a media qualification so my inclination is to suggest properly structured courses designed by professionals and followed by students should be the norm.

Of course I realise this does do damge to the idea of education as an enlightening experience. But then again the state never really considered this in 1870 when they press ganged children into this institution.

The Chinese, Indians and other emerging powers must just laugh their heads off at this kind of stuff.

I absolutely agree with this article. Well done.

Not unsympathetic to this, but we need to be a bit cautious about jumping to conclusions like:

“While they may not have an in-depth understanding of pedagogy, they have a knowledge that no expert has; they know what works for them.”

People can’t always tell the difference between what works for them and what simply appeals to them. Plenty of people would claim assorted alternative therapies work for them, for instance, but God forbid that doctors should have to base their practice on anecdotal claims along these lines.

Once the students are 18, they can vote.

15. So Much For Subtlety

A very small number of students are allowed to express their feelings on the running of the school but there is no process for using their feedback.

Which is a mistake and ought to be reversed.

It is inconceivable that any other public service or business would entirely ignore the views of their key stakeholders. This failure to listen is to waste countless opportunities to improve.

The children are not key stake holders. Nor do they hold any opinions worth listening to. That is the point. They are there to learn. When they have learnt they may have something useful to say but until then they are about as useful to talk to as cabbages.

It is also entirely at odds with the way our society has come to recognize and respect the rights of children.

So much for the rest of society.

Students should have the chance to feedback on the teaching they receive.

I would like to speak to the teacher who taught you to use feedback in that way, but why should they? All children are interested in is sugar rushes, TV, porn, loud music and drugs. What possible useful function could their feedback serve? It would be better to seek the feedback of alumni a few decades after they have graduated.

While they may not have an in-depth understanding of pedagogy, they have a knowledge that no expert has; they know what works for them.

Define “works”. They know that Teacher A expects them to actually read boring textbooks on, like, Shakespeare and all that stuff. While Teacher B lets them bunk off. Now guess what their opinions on the two will be.

Yet the vast majority would respect this opportunity to have a say.

Why do you believe anything so asinine? Any evidence for this?

Some teachers would be sceptical but most would find the information fascinating and useful.

Virtually every single teacher will know it is a massive waste of time which will come back to bite them on the arse when it is used for performance evaluation.

Students should have input into what they study. Clearly there are core skills which students need to acquire, whether they wish to or not. Yet they could decide on how they gained these skills. In History, students could select the period they study. The fact that they made the decision is likely to boost their engagement with the subject.

Why do you believe any of this tripe? There are schools where children decide on what to learn. They tend not to teach much. Why should they have input? If they knew what was useful and valuable they would not need teaching. If they had a clue how to learn on their own they would be able to read and write. And they would not need to be at school.

It is well-established, however, that most students are content in a calm and well-structured environment. They dislike chaos and recognize that a clear system of well-enforced rules is the best way to achieve this. Students also have a very well-developed sense of fairness; even well-behaved students respond very badly to perceived injustice.

Then we should provide them with on. Which does not need a group of thugs and apprentice sociopaths to give input.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 3 Stuart

“For the under 18s, the parents are the stakeholders.”

Why? It isn’t their future that’s affected.

“Can’t see any mention of parents, guardians or family.”

Possibly because we already focus too much on these people. There’s a strong tendency to treat parents’ opinions as far more important than children’s. The whole “parent power” concept seems to assume that children are pretty much property.

Whilst I tend to agree with this article, it, the comments and the counter article over on the teachingbattleground website seem to fail to get to the nub of the issue of student voice.

There are three broad purposes to promote student voice:

1. to improve teaching and learning
2. to improve the running of the school
3. to develop good citizens

They are all good reasons. In relation to the first, well structured student feedback contributes to student motivation, improved behaviour and more effective teaching. The second reason enables schools to build a cohesive and well functioning community. And the third, related to the teaching of citizenship, can encourage behaviours we expect of them in our liberal democratic society.

A key point is that, when I used to visit schools in England, I rarely saw schools that weren’t doing things that related to all three reasons. They may be lots of room for improvement, but there’s always stuff going on. For example, teachers regularly get feedback from students – through assessment and check-ins, subject questionnaires (e.g. asking what a student’s prior knowledge is about the subject, what they’d like to learn about the subject, what their learning expectations are), spotting cues – that is used to improve their teaching. Schools have student councils, student-led anti-bullying groups and a whole range of other structured opportunities (surveys, comment boxes) to receive feedback and promote student leadership in the life of the school.

These processes can be, and are in many schools, structured in a way that enables students to understand the value of their participation in T&L and the life of the school so abuse is minimised and value maximised. They are also structured in a way that is not about abdication of responsibility, but develops the relationships between professionals and students in a way that enhances education.

I certainly will be working with the teachers in Akanksha, India to promote student voice.

Possibly one of the most inane, silly blog posts I have ever seen in education. In a teaching career spanning almost 20 years I was lucky enough to teach some of the brightest 11-18 children in the UK, yet I never met one who was wise enough to vote.

The absolute precondition for teaching to succeed is that pupils respect their teachers. They can find that respect in all kinds of things but if it isn’t there, you can’t teach. If you were a teacher and you voiced this kind of naive silliness, it would be guaranteed to erode any scrap of respect your pupils might have left for you.

The school I attended had a system of democracy and student involvement. What shocked me was how conservative and conformist the students were. They did not run riot, and were often more keen on harsh proscriptive rules than the staff.

17,

The trouble is that it is difficult to believe that *any* of those purposes are actually met by attempts to give students more of a say, and virtually impossible for anyone who isn’t already a true believer to accept that they are being achieved by the ragbag of incoherent practices that have taken place under the name “student voice”.

And that is without challenging the notion of citizenship; a conception of politics stripped of time and place and all that gives meaning to political activity.

Very simple reason why students don’t have much say in their own education. Because they don’t know anything until they’ve been taught it. And who are the experts? The teachers who know the subject. So student can’t put feedback into something while they are learning about it.

I believe in finding out from students what works, but as has been pointed out, ‘what works’ and ‘what appeals’ are not always the same thing.

As for this;

Imagine a system whose entire purpose is to serve a group of people. Imagine that this same system excludes that group of people from holding any power.

I can imagine a number:

paediatrics
child-rearing
care for the mentally ill
driving instruction
accident and emergency
dance teaching
judo lessons
apprenticeships

I’m sure others could think of more.

If students already know better than teachers what they should be taught, then evidently there is no need for them to be in education in the first place.

There are plenty flaws with our HE education system, and there is a decent article to be written on student input into education provision. The hyperbolic and illogical piece above isn’t it, I’m afraid.

I certainly agree that students should be included in the decision making process and think the value of them feeling listened to should not be sniffed at. An old African proverb says something along the line of; ‘Help the young feel included in the village or they will burn it down to feel it’s warmth’.

I’ve set up a company to help develop new ways of doing this – http://www.every1speaks.com – the premise is that parents, teachers and pupils take part in an anonymous debate to democratically bring good ideas to the fore. This happens in a safe, accessible environment which can be accessed at home as well as at school. The people most able to verbally express their ideas aren’t always those with the best ideas. We promote critical thinking through our ‘comment’ section and have a process for transforming ‘seed’ ideas into processed ‘fruit’ ready to be ‘harvested’.

24. Charlieman

The OP incidentally raises the meaning or significance of choice.

If I go shopping along the high street for the ingredients of my evening meal, I know what I am doing. The offerings are familiar to me and I have an appreciation of how much an ingredient should cost. For fresh food, instincts and experience tell me whether it looks or smells right. I may not be an expert cook but in this example, I can be a rational buyer. Two blocks of Parmesan cheese may look identical, but I can justify my choice for the expensive one.

Buying wine, though, is more troublesome. A decent offie will have five red grape varieties from five countries, with more than one brand from each country. Assume then that a shop has 120 different bottles of wine. Using experience and tips from friends, I can reduce the choice by eliminating the worst options. But given the width of offerings, it is difficult to optimise my choice. I do not have the knowledge to make the most rational choice and I play lucky dip amongst those that have not been excluded.

In both of those examples, knowledge and experience gives me the power to make my choice. The greater my knowledge and experience, the greater my confidence in advance of making a purchase. And in hind sight, I observe that when I didn’t know what I was doing, the consequences were poor. Assuming that I do not seek other justifications for my misguided choice.


Some rationalists assume that maximum choice is best. But there are few areas in life where I have the expertise to make the best choice. Where I do have knowledge, I guffaw at newspaper misreports of innovation and frown at others where citizens were expected to have acted as experts. Being good at something does not mean that you are good at everything. The best that we can do is to recognise the fields about which we know nowt. Some people have instincts that are tuned to spot bullshit, but those instincts do not necessarily deliver the best choice.


In the case of children in secondary schools being “given a say” (my presumption of the OP) or HE students influencing degree courses, my instinct is with those who say that it is a daft idea. But it depends on the meaning of “choice” or “influence”, which are different things.

Companies conduct exit interviews because a person who is leaving may be best able to explain what is wrong for the company. My experience with post grad students is that they have grown up so much and have valuable thoughts about their 3 or 4 years of study. Friends in pre-18 teaching tell me a similar story about their students. If you want to improve, you listen.


Deliver choice, please, but make it meaningful choice. I have gone on long enough, so I will keep my definition of “meaningful choice” as simple as possible. It’s about cerise, pretty, more expensive car versus cyan, non-descript car — costing about the same, doing the same thing. It is not about comparing Oxford with Derby University.

Citizens need to feel confident enough to pick a school or health care provider on cerise or cyan principles; that the choice will not screw them up in four years time.

25. Charlieman

@23: Peter Hirst: “I’ve set up a company to help develop new ways of doing this – http://www.every1speaks.com

Yes, but the bottom of your web page uses white text on a sandy background. For everyone?

@25 Interesting that you’d focus on that. I assume you’re suggesting that this could be difficult for someone with visual impairment to view? As with every aspect of design you face the conundrum of form Vs function. Our ‘sales site’ is developed in WordPress and is optimised for those using screen readers. In our actual App we’ve used more high contrast colours but thought that the white and cream looked nice. What’s your take on the rest of what we mention on the site? I agree when you say knowledge and experience improve decision making unreservedly but suggest that experience comes through opportunities to make decisions and thinking for yourself. Why shouldn’t this be with respect to how you’re educated rather than just dry fictional scenarios?

27. Charlieman

@26. Peter Hirst: “As with every aspect of design you face the conundrum of form Vs function.”

My comments were honestly delivered. White text on a beige or neutral background is wrong. People cannot read it.

“this could be difficult for someone with visual impairment to view” No, I hold a driving licence and that is hard to view. It is akin to the half wit in the distance without lights, driving in the fog.

27 Charlieman – totally appreciate your comments were genuinely delivered, didn’t think other wise.

“White text on a beige or neutral background is wrong. People cannot read it.”

Simply untrue. Lot’s of people can read it. I accept that you may have trouble reading it though.

“It is akin to the half wit in the distance without lights, driving in the fog.”

Can honestly say that yours is the first reference we’ve received to that text being a problem so I’ll get our designers to have another look at it. You might be overreacting a little bit with likening it to driving without lights on though eh? We’ve had teachers from schools for kids with SEN look over our stuff and they’ve not pointed it out although if even one person can’t read it very easily then it’s worth looking at.

I’ll ask again – what do you think of the rest of the site? Are you a teacher?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why aren't students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/5E0Hv0Hy

  2. Richard

    Why aren't students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/5E0Hv0Hy

  3. Jason Brickley

    Why aren’t students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/qHFEouD9

  4. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Why aren ’t students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/UEe1DeoT

  5. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Why aren’t students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/lG7idv50

  6. Andrew Old

    I would have started marking, but now I have to reply to this: http://t.co/7rOd63he

  7. Kate Little

    "@libcon: Why aren't students given more of a say? http://t.co/HUSq5sSd" interesting: should "students as partners" extend to schools too?

  8. Ryan Donnelly

    #UK : Why aren ’t students given more of a say in education? http://t.co/UEe1DeoT

  9. Why Students Aren’t Given More of a Say in Education « Scenes From The Battleground

    [...] many ways that a comment isn’t enough. The latest post on Liberal Conspiracy entitled “Why aren’t students given more of a say in education?“ is such a blogpost. Debatable assumptions seem to be woven into almost every line, and so I [...]

  10. EDUBEAT

    Why aren’t students given more of a say in education? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/uK6R4q1A

  11. Andrew Old

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/17/why-arent-students-given-more-of-a-say-in-education/

  12. Asher Jacobsberg

    Great debate on #studentvoice on Liberal Conspiracy and @oldandrewuk 's blogs: http://t.co/MH3LQVEL http://t.co/Q0CYcdUG

  13. Andrew Old

    Great debate on #studentvoice on Liberal Conspiracy and @oldandrewuk 's blogs: http://t.co/MH3LQVEL http://t.co/Q0CYcdUG

  14. Shiraz Chakera

    @AsherJac @oldandrewuk @libcon Actually, it's a pretty poor debate. Here's my view: http://t.co/eqJcz1SK

  15. Daniel Pitt

    Students need to have more say in #education http://t.co/y7Zoim8E #LibTories #GopherGove #democracy #youthvoice

  16. Scott Redding

    "It is inconceivable any other public service/business would entirely ignore the views of their key stakeholders." – http://t.co/hdrcZpTi

  17. Educator Blogs « slm508abm

    [...] http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/17/why-arent-students-given-more-of-a-say-in-education/ [...]





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