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Texts on Community Decision-making in Schools

The following is a growing collection of texts written on the subject of group decision-making in schools (both democratic and consensus).

Democratic Decision-making

by David Gribble
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Democratic decision-making in schools, if it exists at all, is usually limited to small issues such as the organisation of a party or the colour of the classroom walls. Even in schools where the students interview applicants for staff appointments, their role in the final decision is usually only advisory, not participatory. School rules and the curriculum are definitely decided by adults, and any suggestion that it should be otherwise is normally rejected as ridiculous.

All this shows an insulting disregard for the concerns of the children, who, when they are allowed a genuine voice will make responsible and considered decisions. Evidence for this is not limited to independent schools like Summerhill in Suffolk or Sands School in Devon. Highfield Junior School in Plymouth was in a state of chaos when Lorna Farrington was appointed as head teacher in 1994. One of her first actions was to allow the children in each class to make their own rules. Within a year or two the school was calm and purposeful.

Democratic decision-making in schools does not mean adults abandoning their responsibility, it means adults sharing their responsibility with younger people. As long as this sharing is genuine, and group decisions cannot be overturned at the whim of the head teacher or the governors, teachers will find their relationship with their pupils transformed and the atmosphere in the classroom co-operative rather than confrontational.

Some teachers manage to achieve this kind of atmosphere without a framework of democratic decision-making, but democratic decision-making is a powerful way of promoting it.

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