Do students have a right to be consulted about issues affecting their schools?
Mandela said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”, and it was the 35th President of the United States, John F Kennedy, who exclaimed that “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future”. It would appear that these ideas are deemed too ‘radical’ in the modern world, even though young people are tackling problems in society that force them to act in a manner way above their age.
Specifically, if we look at schools in the country at this moment in time, we need to ask the question of whether students are being given an adequate say in the changes taking place within their learning establishments. The truth is, they are not. Student’s voices are being cast inside with the changes that Michael Gove is so keen on introducing, and the thing is, many believe that these changes are for the worse. The main element of change taking place within schools at the moment is the shift from a ‘school’ to an ‘academy’. I know, from first-hand experience and from knowledge I have received, that the opinions of students within some schools are being brushed aside and ignored.
With the change to academy status being a subject that is currently being debated around most governors’ tables, there comes a consultation. A consultation is a process where people are asked for their views and said people are involved extensively in discussion and decision making. The government however doesn’t adopt this idea, as can be seen in the actual Academy Act;
“Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy, the school’s governing body must consult such persons as they think appropriate.”
The governing body must consult such persons as they think appropriate? Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North, summed up the boundaries of the act by stating that it was like, “having a chat with the caretaker at best and chaos at worst”. At my school, in Lincoln, the voice of the students is being ignored in a way that isn’t even made to be shameful. As the chairman of the student body, myself and fellow members of the council called on the head teacher and also the chairman of the governing body to allow us to have a school-wide vote on the issue after an assembly that would create an informed electorate on the issue at hand. This idea was denied.
Students were given a five minute briefing one morning at form time, when information was read out that gave detail to why becoming an academy would be such a great idea and how it would protect our school. We were then told that if we wanted to comment on the issue we would have to put it down in writing, send it to the school so that they could file it and then read it. We were assured that all of our opinions would be read but no proof could be provided that the comments would be taken on board. I do not think I really need to explain how all of us felt about that.
But in this country, there are other Laws. The euro sceptics haven’t won yet and we remain protected by some of Europe’s Laws and also the rules of the United Nations. The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states two main elements in its twelfth article;
“1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those
views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”
The question therefore still stands. Do students have a right to be consulted about decisions that will affect their schools and their educations? There seems to be some form of ‘lapse’ in the Law, a sort of void where people are unsure as to whether accredit young people with this power or not.
Personally I believe it is only right that students are given the right to have their say on issues that will directly affect them. Without students within a school, the school itself would cease to exist because a school is the sum of its parts. The fact that students, like the students at my own school are being denied an extensive voice on the issue is quite frankly disgraceful. But the problem is, this is something that goes on around the country and takes place at many different schools. The government needs to take a long hard look at its plans and also the way in which it consults students and young people about decisions that will affect them. Surely that is the least that young people deserve.Tagged in: academies, consultation, education, michael gove, schools
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