Maggie Atkison, the Childrens’ Commissioner for England, has recently bought up the provocative suggestion that children should be involved in the appointment of their teachers. But is leaving it up to the students a good idea? And where do we draw the line with letting kids rule the roost?
Involving children in the process of hiring staff is a relatively new trend. I remember one occasion at college when my History A Level class were set-upon by four potential history teachers, who each had their 20 minutes in the spotlight to impress us, and the only one that succeeded didn’t get the job. Why he didn’t get the job, I still have no idea, but that was the prerogative of the deciding panel, and in retrospect I’m sure they made the right choice, his defining factor I recall being that he had really cool glasses.
Now, 87% of the 2,000 pupils recently surveyed were sure they recognised what makes a good teacher. Yet only a quarter of them argued the importance, or necessity, of homework. While I am loathe to adopt the mantra of my parents and teachers throughout my pre-teen years, homework is a good thing. Being set tasks on a regular basis is the only way to know to what extent you are improving, and is one of the only opportunities children get for independent learning in the increasingly confined UK curriculum. I have to confess, despite being at University where the concept of homework is somewhat nullified, I actually miss it.
The report states that the majority of students, when asked what qualities were important in a teacher, answered; knowing their subject, giving good feedback to pupils, being clear about expectations and listening to pupils’ ideas and making lessons interesting. Is this insightful though? Or is it what any panellist would look for?
The main concern I have with involving children is the level of maturity they would bring to the table. Be honest, if you were asked at the age of 14 to choose between two potential teachers, one an intelligent, eloquent, 40-something year old bringing two decades of experience into a classroom, and the other a 26-year old blonde, I’m willing to bet most pubescent boys will have made their decision before the lesson has even begun.
The last thing we want is a staffroom full of individuals employed purely because they have silly names or look a little bit like Cheryl Cole. Yet, equally, in these modern times, is it still appropriate for teachers to be selected by a board of governors more focused on meeting government targets and climbing those ever-present league tables than the less quantifiable staff-student interaction and experience in the classroom?
While Atkinson’s proposal is flawed, her premise of widening involvement when selecting teachers, and giving our increasingly tired education system a shake-up in the process, should not be ignored. Instead, those called to help should be the recent school-leavers; more mature than the current students and more able than a board of governors to reflect on which qualities made a good teacher when they were at school only a few years ago. Such an idea enables student involvement without succumbing to educational anarchy and pushes teachers to prove themselves beyond their neatly typed CV.
Putting appointment decisions in the hands of 15 year-olds makes a farce of secondary education, but students shouldn’t be shut out of decisions unanimously, or we risk permanently alienating young people from the school system altogether.