Consensus is not a word often associated with the educational landscape and this is not something that should trouble us unduly. A few months ago, Grainne Hallahan wrote a piece in the Times Education Supplement cautioning against the danger of letting ‘the monster of student voice run rampage in your School’. She wrote:
Every time you think a new student voice fad has died a death, another one sprouts in its place: half termly feedback sheets, praise postcards for popular teachers, and movement on the pay scale prevented by less-than-glowing testimonials from bitter students’.
I am not sure that many Schools allow their pupils to exert a formative influence over pay scale progression and Grainne Hallahan is right to warn against the misuse of student voice. Soliciting derogatory comments about colleagues through loaded questionnaires is as destructive as it is ill-considered. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in listening to pupils. They are the consumers of the product that we are providing. As a classroom teacher it always strikes me as nonsensical to imagine that I could be an effective and reflective practitioner without soliciting frequent feedback from the children whom I taught. I want to know whether or not the children I am teaching find my approach/methodology engaging and effective. Are they enjoying themselves? Have I inspired them to study the subject at GCSE or A Level? Above all, I want children to have the confidence to tell us what they think without worrying that to do so is in some way disrespectful or misplaced.
Effective teachers are lifelong learners and our craft constantly evolves in accordance with societal, cultural, technological and political changes. Since completing my PGCE some years ago, much has changed. A generation of digital natives has emerged. It is not uncommon for very small children to enter our Nursery unable to hold a pencil but masterfully adept at using apps on a tablet. We should not always be reactive to such developments but we need to be attentive to the multifarious pressures and influences which modern life exerts upon our children.
Above all, we should listen to children in every regard. Children are empowered by the knowledge that they do have a voice and that their opinions matter. As educators, our practice evolves by listening and sharing. Those who are disinclined to listen are often insecure in their practice. The benefits of honest and open relationships are immeasurable. In my experience, children respond with maturity, honesty and a good deal of sophistication when asked to reflect upon their experiences of teaching and learning.
Recently, Shaun Fenton (Chairman of HMC) wrote a piece in The Times extolling the merits of pupils playing an active participatory role in the appointment of new staff. It seems entirely reasonable that we should involve children in the recruitment process. At Rossall, we ask children to reflect upon their experience of being taught by prospective candidates. It is our boys and girls who provide School tours and there are those occasions when they interview candidates as part of a formal process. All of this is perfectly healthy and, the vast majority of time, schools would make routinely strong appointments (calibre of field permitting) if senior leadership teams listened to their pupils. The point is that they can be trusted to offer a perspective which is predicated upon years of experience of being taught. They know what inspiring, effective and fun lessons look like. Similarly, they can identify a somnolence inducing windbag within moments of them entering the classroom.
Student voice will continue to grow in prominence at Rossall School as it constitutes a fundamental cornerstone of all reflective and successful school communities committed to the process of continuous improvement. We should not be afraid to respond to constructive criticism for the sort of regard that really endures is dependent upon open and honest relationships rather than overly authoritarian hierarchical structures. We should be promoting debate and inviting feedback rather than fearing its possible abuse.
Children at Rossall School do have plenty of opportunities to collectively (or individually) share their views with us and this can but be a good thing.
I am delighted to welcome three new members of staff to Rossall School this week. Dina Porovic joins us as Deputy Head (Teaching and Learning) and David Clarke joins us as Head of Professional Development. Initially, David will also have oversight of Year 10. Ben Clark joins us as Head of Classics and he will be assisting Mark Bradley in the Sixth Form Team and contributing to the teaching of English and EAL. I know that Dina, David and Ben are going to have a profoundly positive impact upon teaching and learning at Rossall and this was reflected in the superbly successful CPD/INSET day that all teaching staff attended on Monday.
I am conscious that this is a tremendously exciting year for Rossall School. As we celebrate the 175th year since our foundation, it is an opportune moment to reflect upon our illustrious history whilst ensuring that we are well positioned to ensure that we are a school resolutely inclined towards the future. This year will see many exciting developments including:
- Opening of the Sports Centre
- Completion of new Sixth Form Study Centre
- Opening of Centre for Innovation and Excellence (Teaching and Learning)
- Relocation and expansion of Learning Development Department
- Introduction of Heads of Year and horizontal tutor groups
- Re-establishment of Classics Department
- Introduction of Politics A Level, BTEC in Sports Science and GCSEs in Astronomy and Food and Nutrition Science.
- Development of Farm/Environmental Learning
- Introduction of HPQ/Human Universe Course for Years 10/11
The above list is by no means exhaustive but this will be an action packed year at Rossall and I hope that it will be an extraordinarily happy year for all of our pupils and their families.
Happy New Year!