As an educational researcher who has worked in the field of student voice for the past 22 years, I was fascinated to pick up the recent CPRT Research Report by Dr Carol Robinson, Children, their Voices and their Experiences of School: what does the evidence tell us?, introduced in Robin Alexander’s CPRT blog on 12 December.
Carol’s insightful review documents the developing influence of the ‘children’s voices’ movement, and offers an exciting agenda for future practice, policy and research. While the report shows us clearly that much has been gained through researching pupils’ views and the adoption of children’s voices principles, it also acknowledges that there is still a long way to go before these ideas are fully recognised and acted upon, both in the UK and internationally. While Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) confers on every child the right to be consulted and to participate in decision-making, how these principles are put into practice opens up new questions and challenges, particularly for teachers and schools.
Among the questions often raised about the children’s voices principles are the following:
- Is the idea of respecting children’s voices a ‘luxury’ that schools no longer have time for?
- Has the children’s voices movement overstepped the mark by giving children too great a say in decision-making in schools?
- Should we allow children to take responsibility for their own learning?
Let’s look at each of these questions in turn.
Is the idea of respecting children’s voices a ‘luxury’ that schools no longer have time for?
After a presentation on our children’s voices research a few years ago, a head teacher stood up and told the audience that he was deeply grateful for the way in which our research had allowed him to re-focus his attention back onto the children in his school and their learning. He spoke of how the pressures and demands of the prevailing educational policy climate had temporarily eclipsed his thinking about the most important concerns. His was a powerful statement about the value of respecting children’s voices: centring teaching practice on children’s voices in this way redirects us back to the things that matter, that make a real difference to children’s achievement and their love of learning. Far from being a luxury, the recommendations in Carol’s report show us that respecting children’s voices lies at the heart of a successful school community and offers a set of principles which every school should embrace.
Has the children’s voices movement overstepped the mark by giving children too great a say in decision-making in schools?
A common criticism of children’s voices principles is the concern that giving children an active say and involvement in decision-making could undermine teachers’ authority in schools. Some teaching unions have opposed children’s roles in interviewing teacher job applicants, for example, on the grounds that such activities might compromise pupil-teacher relationships while this type of decision-making, they argue, represents a step too far in changing the dynamics of power. However, as Jean Rudduck argued, respecting children’s voices does not mean that pupils’ views take precedence over teachers’ authority, nor must it result in a silencing of teachers’ own voices in the decision-making process. While it is important that children’s views are considered seriously and without tokenism, there is a clear balance to be struck, and a school ethos that is framed on values that embrace responsibility, reciprocity and community sets the parameters for ensuring that the voices of all, whether adult or child, are heard and respected. There are many schools around the country which have successfully embedded children’s voices principles in their practice. One of them is the Exeter school featured in Jo Evans’s CPRT blog on 21 January. Over the coming months the CPRT website will be showcasing other schools where CPRT principles, on this and other matters, can be witnessed in action.
Should we allow children to take responsibility for their own learning?
There is clear evidence from psychological studies showing that encouraging young learners to develop a sense of responsibility for their learning has a significant and positive impact on their achievement and attitudes to learning. US researcher, Carol Dweck, for example, has demonstrated that the children’s motivation and achievement are dependent on having a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning. Giving children choices in their learning also provides opportunities for teachers to design classroom activities that respond to children’s interests and prior knowledge so that learning becomes more engaging and relevant.
Over to you
- What do you think about the role of children’s voices in primary education?
- Does your school have interesting children’s voices practice or experiences to share?
To discover more about these ideas
Cambridge Primary Review Trust has been working with Pearson to develop a number of professional development programmes, including one focusing on children’s voices. This exciting new course looks at involving children in the development of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment and is designed for senior leadership teams.
The Rights Respecting Schools programme has been developed by UNICEF to support schools interested in putting the UNCRC recommendations on children’s rights at the heart of their practice. The programme offers training, resources and an award scheme for any organisations working with children and young people around the UK.
On 1 January Julia Flutter joined CPRT’s directorial team, taking responsibility for developing the Trust’s communication strategy.