Most of us of a certain generation had one… a formidable great aunt who believed that “children should be seen and not heard”. My great aunt Mildred was a classic of the genre; she had a kind heart but it was well hidden behind a cool tweed laden exterior and she liked children to be angelic ornaments rather than vocal participants in family occasions. She was of a generation that did not attach great importance to the views of children, believing instead that a certain maturity was required before a voice was worth listening to.
Thankfully the world has moved on, and listening to the ‘pupil voice’ is now an important part of any good school. Children are sophisticated consumers of education, and given the amount of time they spend in the classroom they know what makes a great lesson and an excellent teacher. Schools need to capture this feedback and sieve it for common themes and constructive criticism which improve teaching and learning.
Most teachers recognise that listening to pupil feedback is a vital part of professional development. Children generally rise to responsibility, and when asked to comment on a lesson they do so with care, consideration and insight. In such ways teachers receive lots of morale boosting plaudits from their pupils, as well as helpful advice on how to improve resources, marking, activities and homework. As teachers comment on a pupil’s work, so pupils can reflect on their teachers and this two way feedback creates a genuine sense of educational partnership underpinned by a commitment to continuous improvement.
However there is far more to the pupil voice than just lesson questionnaires. At The Perse, student ‘peer listeners’ are trained to act as informal supports and sounding boards for other pupils. In academic subjects student ‘study buddies’ volunteer to run lunchtime sessions where other pupils can drop in to request help with their learning. The ‘study buddies’ consolidate their own knowledge (there is nothing like teaching a topic to know a topic) whilst simultaneously helping others progress. Tangible schemes like ‘study buddies’ and ‘peer listeners’ create a positive school culture where the expectation is that pupils support one another.
It is important to listen to all pupil voices, and inevitably some are louder and more confident than others. The quiet and the retiring need to have their chance to be heard, with some prefering virtual communication through ‘have your say’ sections on the school’s internet site, or conversations with teachers or peer listeners.
Good schools are made better by listening to children. Elected bodies such as school councils give pupils early experiences of the ups and downs of democracy but the good ideas generated improve education for all. This said, listening to children is not the same as agreeing with them, but educating pupils about the good reasons why something can’t happen is itself a constructive act. Likewise teachers can assist in the pupil articulation process by helping children communicate in polite, sensitive and clear ways.
Excellent communication is fundamental to school success and children must definitely be seen and heard.