The Backlash Over Student Voice

It had to happen I guess. You take a sensible idea – giving students some say in how education is done to them – and after many schools have made it work to everyone’s satisfaction, it just needs one hyperbolic reaction before everyone starts giving it a good kicking. In this case, it came in the form of the teacher who (supposedly) failed to get a job because a student taking part, allegedly labelled him ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Let’s set aside the uncorroborated nature of this anecdote (was the student part of the decision making process, or merely an observer?) and focus upon the scorn it provoked.

Step in the ring Melanie Phillips, she of the Daily Mail, and again allegedly, the litmus test for DCSF policy ideas. In a recent article, she manages to castigate everyone involved in Student Voice – the students, for being infantile, and the teachers, for thinking they could possibly have anything to offer. The problem with Student Voice, according to Ms Phillips is irrefutable:

‘Founded upon the truism that we all never stop learning throughout our lives, it destroyed the demarcation between school and adult life.

The absurdity of this was illustrated some three years ago when one trendy London primary school head teacher relabelled himself ‘lead learner’.

Not surprisingly, this loss of belief in the core function of education meant that many pupils were effectively abandoned to stumble through the world.’

Quite what the ‘core function’  of education is never disclosed: presumably it’s sitting down, shutting up and reciting multiplication tables.

But wait, there’s more. After blaming parents who want to be their children’s friends. Such confusion 

‘is based on the desire of adults to relieve themselves of responsibility towards children either as parents or as teachers. 

It is a profound infantilisation of the adult world, which has not just deprived a teacher of a job but created an entire Humpty Dumpty society.’

That’s it, then – we’re all Humpty Dumpties.

As it happens, I have involved students as observers in every teacher hiring I ever chaired – almost 100 posts, in total.  There was not a single instance where the student’s preferred candidate differed from the panel’s. Students take such responsibilities really seriously, and they understand that if they’re not trusted to behave like adults when they’re younger, they’re going to make a lot of numpty humpty decisions when they’re doing the job for real. In my experience give them a challenge and they invariably rise to it. Set low expectations – on their judgement, maturity or performance – and they’ll prove you right. Or in the words of this (admittedly very bright) young person: “We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them’.

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