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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 13:26 GMT
School councils a must, say MPs
All 11 to 16-year-olds in England have to study citizenship
Every school in England should set up a council so pupils can have a voice on the appointment of teachers and running the school, a Commons committee says.

The education select committee's report said school councils helped pupils take part in democratic debate.

Citizenship lessons were central to addressing issues of segregation in today's society, the MPs added.

But the report's conclusions were not supported by Conservative members of the committee.

Subject to a review by academics at the Institute of Education at London University, the government should make school councils compulsory, the committee said.

Citizenship education has the potential to address some of the challenges at the heart of social exclusion
Barry Sheerman, committee chairman

"Well-run councils offer students opportunities both to participate in democratic, representative practices, such as elections, and to effect change in their school environments," the report said.

Pupils should be trained in negotiation, communication skills and leadership to help the school councils work well, the committee added.

Citizenship lessons have been a compulsory part of the national curriculum since September 2002.

But the MPs said the government was in danger of losing interest in citizenship education.


"The quality and extent of citizenship education is still inconsistent across the country," the report said.

"This patchiness needs to be tackled head-on and progress accelerated.

"More needs to be done to communicate with leaders, teachers and lecturers - especially in settings which have not made much progress to date - about the approaches that are working in other institutions."

Any report that seeks to promote common citizenship needs to specifically reject the multicultural 'mush' that has caused the problem
Tory committee member Douglas Carswell
Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "We heard some really inspiring accounts of citizenship education programmes in schools and colleges.

"It is crucial that we now ensure these experiences become more widespread. Ministers need to demonstrate they are firmly behind this agenda.

"We all acknowledge that there are people in this country who feel excluded and alienated from society - citizenship education has the potential to address some of the challenges at the heart of this social exclusion."

Tory revolt

However, Conservative members of the cross-party committee have not put their names to the report.

One, Douglas Carswell, said: "Years of cultural relativism, promoted by the state, have undermined social cohesion.

"Any report that seeks to promote common citizenship needs to specifically reject the multicultural 'mush' that has caused the problem."

Mr Carswell said he could not accept the idea of making school councils compulsory.

The National Union of Teachers also rejected the idea.

General secretary Steve Sinnott said: "If the government made school councils a requirement, they would be seen as an imposition, setting back their development."

'Cut stress'

His counterpart at the Association of School and College Leaders, John Dunford, said the Welsh Assembly Government had already made the mistake of making school councils compulsory and issuing detailed guidelines on how to run them.

"Instead of being positive about developing these important bodies, schools have been annoyed by the way in which they are being told what to do," he said.

But the chief executive of School Councils UK, Jessica Gold, said what was setting them back was lack of time in the curriculum and lack of funding and training for staff and students.

"As part of making them statutory the government would need to ensure that they are properly resourced and accounted for as part of the school day," she said.

"There is growing evidence that effective school councils cut teachers' stress by reducing conflict in schools."

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