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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 15:31 GMT
'School democracy' plans criticised
Classroom
Pupils should have more of a say in affairs, the government says
Plans to involve children more in running schools should be dropped because they are "blinkered", a teaching union says.

The Department for Education and Skills' Working Together document recommends giving pupil councils more decision-making powers.

It also asks that children be trained to mediate in disputes among their peers, helping to beat problems like bullying and fighting.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke said the plans would help "standards, behaviour and inclusion".

'Barely mentions learning'

But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers claims the government is showing a "profound lack of understanding" of the needs of the curriculum, by focusing too much on personal development.

Schools have been asked their opinion of a draft set of plans, but the ATL says this should be withdrawn.

General secretary Mary Bousted said: "We found the draft guidance unhelpful and misleading and feel it was an opportunity wasted.

"The guidance barely mentions pupils' learning, and ways in which they can be more involved in their learning."

In its proposals, the government emphasises the opportunities to improve children's participation using subjects like citizenship - which was introduced to the curriculum last year - and Personal, Social and Health Education.

Dr Bousted said: "ATL believes that it is nonsense for the government to think that active learning can only happen in certain subjects.

Anti-racism

"We could not fail to notice that the government, which is so keen to promote student participation and 'pupil voice', is the very same government that banished speaking and listening from the National Literacy Strategy."

The DfES report cites several examples of schools involving pupils more in decision-making.

At North Camden Community School, north London, Bengali, Somali, Nigerian and Eritrean children take part in anti-racism projects.

Meanwhile, those at Lawrence Sheriff school in Warwickshire help to interview new staff.

The report says such activities will improve negotiating, debating and decision-making skills.

Children would be "more motivated" and, in return, receive better school services.

'More participation'

This, the DfES said, would benefit the whole community, cutting crime and providing better work-related skills.

Mr Clarke said: "I strongly support the principle of ensuring that our children and young people participate more effectively in democratic process.

"We are embarking on an ambitious programme to embed participation in all our activities with the focus on the customer."

A DfES spokesman said: "The department worked closely with heads, teachers, unions, including the ATL, and young people to develop draft guidance on how most effectively to involve young people in making decisions which affect them.

"The consultation period on this guidance has ended and we will reflect on all comments before producing the final document."

The consultation was launched in July. The results are expected to be published in the near future.


SEE ALSO:
Why we missed school to protest
21 Mar 03  |  Education
Citizenship classes US-style
04 Sep 03  |  Americas
Schools struggling with citizenship
02 Jul 03  |  Education


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