What students have to say is valid

By Olivia Eaton, English Teacher at The Forest Academy
14 June 2016

What has amazed me whilst working on the Curriculum Campaign is the realisation of where students fit into their own education. They arrive at school, take in the knowledge required and then leave. It is something given to them and often, at least in their eyes, with little regard to their own lives.

With all of the curriculum changes in English, it hasn’t been a surprise that I’ve been asked “why?” by students on several occasions. Sometimes in despair, but also sometimes with genuine curiosity:

“Why are we reading this?”
“Why is it ‘closed book’?”
“Why are all writers dead?”

And often I don’t have the answer, because the curriculum is something given to me too.

At the moment, none of the main exam boards we have spoken to consult students about their curriculum. To me this seems like madness! Teachers are somewhat in the loop, but not pupils. Since we have spoken with them, we hope some of the exam boards are now considering consulting with students. Students are the only people to experience the full breadth of the curriculum every day.

People may think students are not mature enough to be part of these discussions or that they may not be able to articulate their feelings - but having worked with students on the campaign, I don’t think this is the case. Many of our students can tell you what they value and what works for them. Many of them have eloquently articulated this in front of politicians and exam board representatives as part of our campaign.

So yes, they are still young and may need support to make these sorts of decisions, but shouldn’t they be allowed a seat at the table? We have a problem of apathy in our schools. Could this not be improved by asking students to help create education rather than them just receiving it?

There have been high and low moments since our campaign launch, but the highest are all those that have involved the students, who continue to surprise me with their ideas, passion and diplomacy. They should not be underestimated or ignored.

If there is one thing I will take away from the experience, it will be to have more conversations with students about the workings of their courses, not only to explain how the structures work, but to encourage their own opinions on it as well.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of this campaign, it has already been worth it to see the effect it has had on the students. Their voices have been listened to and their points of view acknowledged.

What they have to say is valid, and should be listened to – after all, any change to the curriculum will affect them the most!