Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 10 Jun 2010

Pupils at my sonís school help man the reception desk but some parents are saying it exploits pupils and takes them away from lessons.

Hillary's Advice

It never ceases to amaze me, the things that school parents can find to get in a state about! And isnít it interesting that these are, apparently, mainly parents of Year Seven pupils, whose children wonít be asked to take on duties in the schoolís front office until next year? So these are not parents who are upset about what is happening to their children now, but parents who are getting anxious about a hypothetical problem they imagine might arise in the future.

Parents everywhere have a tremendous capacity to whip each other into a frenzy of indignation about perceived slights, offences and injustices, especially those reported through Chinese whispers at the school gate. But you need good facts to make good judgements. In this case, for example, it would be interesting to know if any Year Eight parents, whose children have actually experienced these onerous reception desk duties, feel similarly indignant.

I go into of schools all over the country and would say that it is often the most vibrant and successful ones that ask pupils to take on these sorts of responsibilities. They know that it is good for everyone to have a stake in running the school community, and they have confidence that their students will conduct themselves well. They also know that learning what itís like to be on a duty rota can help young people get a useful taste of what will be expected of them in the working world.

In fact increasing numbers of schools are going much further, and asking pupils to help them appoint staff, assess teachers and advise their governing bodies on what students need and want. They believe that this sort of trust and responsibility increases commitment, motivation and self-respect.

Of course it would be a problem if pupils were asked to take on too many duties, or were taken out of the classroom in their vital exams years, but I see no problem at all in pupils being asked to help out occasionally at a reception desk -- in fact can see many benefits.