Seen but not heard

The government has pledged to listen to the views of young people,
but is this taking place within our education system? Do schools
listen to the views of students?

0-19 heard the views of Esther, a 13 year old from a mixed
comprehensive in Birmingham; Kira and Sasha, who are both 14 and
attend a mixed comprehensive in Oxford, and nine year old Scott,
from a primary school in Oxford.

All of the young people say that their schools have a school
council, but they report little enthusiasm for the system. “To be
honest I don’t know why it’s there”, says Kira, who was a former
school council representative. “At our school, you spend half the
time waiting for the teachers to turn up and then when they do and
you suggest something, they just go on about the budget”. Sasha,
who serves on Oxford youth council says her school council is just
for show. “For starters, the meetings are only for an hour, once
every few months – so it’s not enough to make a difference. They
don’t give you an agenda, and they don’t give you things to work on
between meetings like they do with the youth council. It’s just not
taken seriously”.

Scott points out that, very often, what happens at the meeting is
not fed back to the rest of the school. Esther explains that in her
school, the school council has more of a fund-raising role. “Our
representatives asked us what we wanted, and some of us said let’s
have some more football pitches, so the school council has to find
ways of raising the money”.

However, Esther feels that her school is reasonably democratic.
“They are really good on things like political opinions; we were
all allowed to walk out in protest against the war on Iraq.” She
says that when the school appointed a new head teacher, 10 of the
students were invited to meet the candidates, and feed back
information to the rest of the school. “I don’t think they had any
say in who got the job and I’m not sure whether they were allowed
to tell us everything but it was good that they got to meet the

But on the whole, these young people do not feel they are consulted
about decisions that are taken in school, and some are angry about
certain rules that have been created without good reason. A common
theme appears to be doors or gates that are locked with no
explanation and this seems to happen routinely. In the Oxford
secondary school, a number of corridors have recently become
one-way routes and a passageway linking two separate school sites
was now locked at certain hours, which caused difficulties for
students. No reason or warning has been given. “I can see why, in
some of the narrow ones, because of all the shoving, but there are
some places where it is impossible to get from A to B,” says Sasha.
Kira feels similarly, because “school is like a second home, it’s a
big part of your life.”

There is a feeling that things that seem trivial to teachers might
matter a great deal to young people. “Last week this man came to
our school. He was a rugby player and he came to do some coaching
with us. But they didn’t tell us about it until that afternoon, and
so half of us didn’t have our PE kit, and we had to borrow stuff
from the teacher. Some people were a bit upset. I just wish I’d
been told” says Scott. He also feels that if schools are going to
buy equipment for children to use, they should ask them what they
want beforehand. “At our school they’ve just bought us some proper
football posts and nets, they cost loads. We used to use our
jumpers as goals and we were quite happy with it. Most of us would
rather have basketball nets”.

Some of the young people expressed their frustration at rules that
were introduced without consultation, and seemed to have no point.
“Our uniform used to be navy ‘hoodies’ with black or navy
trousers,” says Esther. “Then, last term we were all told that
black wasn’t allowed anymore, it had to be all navy. You get sent
home now if you don’t wear navy. But why change it? I just don’t
see the point, and no one asked us what we thought and we are the
ones who have to wear it. Also the old uniform was designed by a
student, which is quite cool”.

Kira and Sasha explain that there is a great deal of anger and
anxiety among students about plans to place cameras in parts of
their school. “Our head of year just announced at assembly that
smokers and drug-takers were in for a shock, because there would be
cameras in the changing rooms,” says Sasha. “It’s bad enough
changing around your friends as it is, especially when you’re
developing. No way am I getting changed if there’s a camera in the
room,” adds Kira. No information had been given about who would
watch the films and it was clearly causing concern.

The overall consensus is that the young people feel their views are
not valued. They also noted a Catch 22. “I’ve noticed that if you
ask teachers to treat you like an adult, then they just think
you’re a bad-tempered rebellious teenager who wants to go out
clubbing every night and get piercings all over the place” says

The schools’ failure to take students’ views seriously has a
negative impact on their self-esteem. As one student pointed out:
“There are quite a few young people who do have good ideas. If
someone values your opinion, you feel better in yourself. I think
schools really do need to start listening.”

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