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Student Voice and the Perils of Popularity



In this article we suggest that the current popularity of student voice can lead to surface compliance—to a quick response that focuses on ‘how to do it’ rather than a reflective review of ‘why we might want to do it’. We look at the links between student consultation and participation and the legacy of the progressive democratic tradition in our schools and we look also at the difference between teaching about democracy as an investment for the future and enacting democratic principles in the daily life of the school (a commitment to the present). The tension between institutional gains (the school improvement perspective) and personal gains (confidence, a view point and the shaping of identity) is discussed and three of the ‘big issues’ are identified that underlie the credible development of student voice: power relations between teachers and students, the commitment to authenticity, and the principle of inclusiveness. Finally we reflect on some of the organizational implications of developing student voice: finding time and building a whole‐school culture in which student voice has a place.
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Educational Review
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Student voice and the perils of popularity
Jean Rudduck
; Michael Fielding
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. UK
School of Education, University of Sussex. UK
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/00131910600584207
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Student voice and the perils of
Jean Rudduck
and Michael Fielding
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK;
School of Education, University of
Sussex, UK
In this article we suggest that the current popularity of student voice can lead to surface
compliance—to a quick response that focuses on ‘how to do it’ rather than a reflective review of
‘why we might want to do it’. We look at the links between student consultation and participation
and the legacy of the progressive democratic tradition in our schools and we look also at the
difference between teaching about democracy as an investment for the future and enacting
democratic principles in the daily life of the school (a commitment to the present). The tension
between institutional gains (the school improvement perspective) and personal gains (confidence,
a view point and the shaping of identity) is discussed and three of the ‘big issues’ are identified that
underlie the credible development of student voice: power relations between teachers and
students, the commitment to authenticity, and the principle of inclusiveness. Finally we reflect on
some of the organizational implications of developing student voice: finding time and building a
whole-school culture in which student voice has a place.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)/Teaching and Learning
Research Programme’s (TLRP’s) Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning
Project—which was the starting point for this Special Issue—ended its research and
development phase in 2003. Since then interest in student voice, in consultation and
participation, has grown rapidly. More and more organizations have become
involved and their impulse is often to prepare their own ‘how to do it’ materials on
student voice for their own constituency of practitioners, both within and beyond the
school sector. But there are some dangers in rapid popularization and schools
interested in introducing student voice should, we think, ask themselves:
N whether the climate is appropriate in terms of trust and openness and if not how it
can be made more so;
*Corresponding author. Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 184 Hills Road,
Cambridge, CB2 2PQ, UK. Email:
Educational Review
Vol. 58, No. 2, May 2006, pp. 219–231
ISSN 0013-1911 (print)/ISSN 1465-3397 (online)/06/020219-13
# Educational Review
DOI: 10.1080/00131910600584207
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N why they want to introduce and/or develop student voice;
N who might feel (or what might be) most at risk as a result of introducing student
N what can be learned from accounts of its development in other settings.
The Consulting Pupils Project offers a lot (through its publications and its
continuing ‘live’ contributions to professional development courses) that can help
teachers with these questions but
N its remit ensured that it did not stray far outside the school sector to look at
parallel developments beyond school (hence the importance of Mike Wyness’s
and Julia Flutter’s papers in this Special Issue);
N it did not have the resources to look at the implications of student voice for new
teachers (hence the importance of Fotini Mitsoni’s paper in this Special Issue);
N it reflected the prevailing concern with student voice and school improvement and
while it documented other outcomes to do with students’ confidence, self esteem
and sense of agency, it did not give as much attention to the shaping of student
identity (hence the importance of John MacBeath’s paper in this Special Issue);
N the team did not have time until the Project was ‘over’ to stand back and reflect
more theoretically on the data (hence the importance of the papers by Donald
McIntyre and David Pedder and by Diane Reay in this Special Issue).
What we try to do in this final paper is to highlight the things that we think are
important but that often get side-lined as a result of the urgent pressure to
implement new ideas quickly. The topics we focus on are these:
N interesting antecedents: consultation, participation and the democratic tradition
in schools;
N the contribution that student voice can make to the development of students’
identities and to the skills of confident discussion and negotiation—what Stewart
Ranson calls the foundation for ‘active capability’ (Ranson, 2000, p. 265);
N some of the fundamental issues that underlie the development of student voice,
including the challenge to traditional power relations, the importance of
authenticity and the need to be alert to issues of inclusion and exclusion.
Interesting antecedents: consultation, participation and the democratic
We think it important to give some attention to the historical resonance of new
initiatives so that we can understand their ‘rootedness’ in earlier thinking and
practice. In this section, therefore, we look back.
The editorial started (at the beginning of this Special Issue) by pointing out that
student voice was not a new topic for Educational Review which had devoted a whole
220 J. Rudduck and M. Fielding
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issue to it in 1978. The papers in that issue were based on data gathered by
researchers interested in students’ perspectives but did not reflect, as far as we can
tell, any special commitment on the part of the schools they worked in to promoting
student voice. However there were many high profile schools (and there may have
been others that were not written about) where it had flourished. These were mainly
independent schools but there are also accounts from some well known progressive
state schools. The principles on which the schools were developed led to a culture in
which students as an institutional group had considerable influence and status.
There was more to this than recognizing that students might have things to say about
improving their experiences in school; there was a more rounded appreciation of
young people’s capabilities and a recognition of the importance of their personal and
social development.
We shall look briefly at three schools where the commitment to participation and
voice was central. One was established in the 1890s, one in the 1920s and the third
in the 1940s. The first school was founded by John Haden Badley, the second by
Harold Dent, and the third by Alex Bloom. What the schools appear to have in
common was a founding headteacher who was passionately committed to
democratic possibilities—to the idea of the school as a community where students
shared in its governance, to student autonomy and, importantly, to making spaces
where students could develop their own identities and interests.
was an independent boarding school (originally for boys but becoming
co-educational after a few years). Its founding philosophy emphasized ‘freedom,
trust, responsibility’. Students had a role in the organization of the school,
participated in the monitoring of their own progress, and had some choice in
learning activities. The school’s founder wanted a ‘true community’ of students
rather than ‘a herd’ and thought it important that ‘members feel that they have a
share in its government and the organization of its life’. The school parliament,
which was an advisory rather than a legislative body, was set up so that ‘Staff and the
School might understand each other’s point of view and learn the reasons why any
particular measure is necessary or where it would press hardly’. A recent school
brochure refers to the continuing vitality of the original ‘Bedales vision’ which
highlighted ‘tolerance, breadth in curriculum and a focus on the whole person’.
Harold Dent
was better known as historian and editor of the Times Educational
Supplement (TES) than as a headteacher but in the late 1920s he was appointed as
‘the first headmaster of a new type of secondary school, a school which was to cater
for the more practical and less academically minded type of boy who was
nevertheless possessed of good ability’ (Dent, 1939, pp. 390–391; in Rudduck,
1999). Patricia Rowan, a later editor of the TES, comments: ‘He wanted to make
children participants in their own schooling, rather than just recipient; he wanted, ‘to
free them from sitting like little models’ (Rowan, 1997, p. 9). Dent believed that
young people had ‘a personal interest in their upbringing, something to contribute to
its problems, and a point of view that we (should) treat with greater deference’
(1939, p. 390). One of his most innovative moves was fired by his belief that young
people had to be given space to make decisions and to work out and develop their
Student voice and the perils of popularity 221
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own identities and he had sufficient freedom in curriculum planning to be able to act
on his concerns:
I might fit the boys into a prearranged curriculum which could later be modified in
detail to suit particular needs, or I might devise some means whereby the boys
themselves could indicate to me what sort of curriculum would be best for their
He opted for the latter and allowed the 12–13 year old students a term in which they
were able to choose and work on their own extended projects: ‘Many … were utterly
different creatures by the end of the term; they had developed poise, self-confidence
and skill, and there was little difficulty in fitting them into courses which were
calculated to give them present satisfaction and a sure basis for the future’ (Dent,
1939, p. 392). He attributed these outcomes to the opportunity for young people to
exercise choice in a framework of responsibility and trust.
St George-in-the-East, a state secondary school, was established by Alexander
in London in 1945. What was particularly distinctive of Bloom’s work,
especially in contrast to today’s icons of excellence, was, firstly, his very clear view of
how human beings grow and flourish as persons; secondly, his commitment to an
education based on these beliefs; and, thirdly, his capacity to develop his aspirations
in the realities of everyday encounters.
Bloom’s approach rested on the expectation that everyone in the school would feel
committed to the community which they were part of and want to contribute to its
wellbeing. Bloom saw the principle of communally situated individuality as central
to a democratic way of life. Furthermore, he took the view that ‘a consciously
democratic community could not be formed gradually by the removal of one taboo
after another’ and as a consequence, his school began ‘without regimentation,
without corporal punishment, without competition’ (Bloom, 1948, p. 121). For
Bloom, ‘fear of authority , fear of failure, and the fear of punishment’ had to be
replaced by ‘friendship, security and the recognition of each child’s worth’ (Bloom,
1952, pp. 135–136).
The confidence that these alternative arrangements encouraged was seminal.
Bloom recognized the importance of young people making choices, through a
negotiated curriculum, about what, how, when and with whom they learned. The
structures for participation at St George-in-the-East were nested within a whole
school forum that included all students (about 260) and all staff (about 10). The
overall arrangements included a Teacher Panel and a Student Panel (which met
every week, the Student Panel having the power to set up student committees to
manage particular tasks or ventures), a Joint Panel which met every month and a
whole School Council which met a few days after the Joint Panel. Every member of
the school was entitled to be present at and contribute to the School Council. In
many ways the most remarkable feature of this very remarkable school was the
centrality of what we would now call ‘student voice’ in its daily life and its
intellectual and practical enquiry.
Common to these three schools was a commitment to the idea of community as
something that can support the development of individual identities, personal
222 J. Rudduck and M. Fielding
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autonomy and choice while at the same time highlighting the importance of mutual
respect, trust and reciprocity. The schools, in their different ways, all created spaces
where students could explore and express their views, both as individuals and as
representatives of the student group.
Today, government support for student voice and participation in schools is
strong but seems to have been fuelled by concerns other than the making of
democratic communities. Familiarity with the principles of democratic governance is
considered important but presented as something to be taught rather than
experienced in the daily life of the school. Interestingly, Harold Dent had argued,
way back in 1930, for experiencing democracy as a defining feature of school
culture: ‘Before you can have an educated democracy you must offer your
democracy an education that is likely to make it one’ (Dent, 1930, p. 14).
Again, official guidelines suggest that democracy in education is primarily about
preparing students for their role as future citizens—and yet what matters to students
is their lives in school now. As Anne Oakley (1994) has said, we are often pre-
occupied with young people’s ‘becoming’, ‘with their status as ‘‘would-be’’ adults—
rather than with the here and now state of ‘‘being’’’. Consultation and participation
are an enactment, in the present, of democratic principles and are powerful allies in
the task of redefining the status of young people in schools and shaping more
democratic structures for learning.
The contribution of student voice to the development of cooperative agency
and individual identity
School improvement is probably the dominant justification for consultation and
participation in the present performance-dominated climate. However, Stewart
Ranson offers a persuasive argument that links the idea of the school as a democratic
community, the confidence that young people can develop in such a setting and their
agency in helping improve the conditions of learning (see also Rudduck & Flutter,
2004, pp. 133–134). He talks about voice in the context of the ‘remaking of
communities’, both within and beyond school, suggesting that what voice offers is
the opportunity for young people to discover and affirm personal perspective and
also to learn to cooperate and to negotiate. It is important, he continues, that young
people ‘learn how to enter into a dialogue with others in order to transform practice’
(Ranson, 2000, p. 266). However, while acknowledging that the government is
actively promoting student involvement he remains uncertain how much it is really
valued compared with other contemporary concerns and initiatives:
While much public policy focuses upon the skills young people will need to enter and
survive in the labour market, less emphasis is accorded to the significance of
encouraging them to find the voice and practices of cooperative agency indispensable
to flourishing within a democratic civil society. (Ranson, 2000, p. 263)
Government needs to reflect on the contradictions and inconsistencies in its
presentation of student participation and voice: on the one hand, the virtues of
consultation and participation are endorsed while on the other hand, systems are
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sustained which reflect the very different values of what Ahier et al. (2003) refer to as
‘competitive individualism’—where students are ‘categorized, compared to and
judged against one another’ (Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2001, pp. 3–4). For many
teachers the tension is captured by the still relevant words of Bastian and colleagues
(1985, p. 1): they feel caught at some level between ‘a desire to serve the
competitive demands of a stratified society, and a desire to play a socially
integrative and democratic role, serving the right of all children to develop to their
fullest potential’.
Being able to ‘have a say’ on things that matter to you is important but the
implications of ‘finding a voice’ are greater; they engage with issues of personal
identity. Some students are aware of the difficulty of finding your own voice within
the traditional organization of large schools. Hart et al. (2004) have pointed out that
‘classroom environments are by their very nature, places where individual
affirmation is not all that easily come by’ (p. 27) and they recall Philip Jackson’s
(1968) observation that students have to learn to live ‘as part of a crowd’. The
importance to students of developing a sense of their own identity is explained by
Jessye, a student taking part in the collaborative project coordinated by Shultz and
Cook-Sather which was about helping young people ‘to express in their own voices
their perceptions, feelings and insights about school’ (2001, p. xi). Jessye co-
authored a chapter called ‘Speaking out loud: girls seeking self-hood’ and in it she
explains how important it is to find out who you are:
This (report) is not an explanation of who we are, but rather, a sharing of our battle to
find that person, and this is about school because ‘student’ is part of who we are,
‘learning’ is part of what we do, and school is where who we are and want to be collides
with who everyone else is. (It’s) where we attempt to learn who we are and begin to
understand who we want to be. (Jessye, in Judon et al., 2001, p. 39)
Many students we have talked with wanted to understand the nature of their agency
and they want to find their own position on controversial issues rather than feel that
their views are constructed out of exam-acceptable voices—as this young American
woman explains:
I have seen too many people trapped by listening to the voices in their heads that are not
their own, reaching the miserable point when their own voices are lost for good amongst
all the jumble. (Julia, in Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2001, p. xi)
Other students talk powerfully about similar experiences, feeling that their voices are
ignored or even suppressed in school and about how difficult it is to learn to think for
themselves. MacBeath and Weir (1991) home in on ‘the powerful influence of
external examinations in motivating students to ‘‘reproduce’’ learning rather than
develop their own thinking’. But a 15 year old from an English school makes a
different point, attributing the difficulty of finding one’s own voice less to the
pressure to reproduce ‘safe’ answers for the exam than to the pressure of having
one’s ideas shaped by the strong expectations of others:
When I was younger I was quite ambivalent about God. I didn’t care about religion
either way. Now religion is put on us in such a forceful way that we violently disbelieve
224 J. Rudduck and M. Fielding
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out of spite … We should not be told what to believe. Our opinion is never asked for and
never matters. (quoted in Rudduck & Flutter, 2004, p. 102)
The big issues: power relations, authenticity and inclusion
The glossy popularity of student voice can make consultation seem easy—it is not.
Students often comment on the lack of occasions—reflecting, perhaps, a lack of
expectation on the part of school managers—when they can discuss their
experiences. An American student describes the frustration:
Sometimes I wish I could sit down with one of my teachers and just tell them what I
exactly think about their class. It might be good, it might be bad, it’s just that you don’t
have the opportunity to do it. (Anub, in Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2001, p. xii)
The concern that springs most nimbly to teachers’ minds is also finding (rather than
making) time and space in the curriculum. But a more fundamental concern is about
rupturing the security of traditional power relations between teachers and students
and redefining the boundaries of possibility.
Power relations
(Work on voice) starts from the position that interesting things can be said by groups
who do not occupy the high ground—they may actually be quite lowly and situated
at some distance from the centres of power. (Smyth & Hattam, 2002, p. 378)
The development of student participation in schools depends on teachers being
prepared to ‘see’ young people differently. A teacher involved in a project on student
participation offers his analysis of the problem of change: he comments on the
improvement strategies that the management team in his school are comfortable
with and the more fundamental change that, in his view, is actually needed:
The management puts more systems in place, they rejuvenate old ones but there is
nothing wrong with the systems that we already have. It is our perception of the
students, that’s what we’ve got to change. (quoted in Finney, 2005, p. 71)
Gerald Grace (1995) has talked about the ‘ideology of immaturity’ that gets in the
way of our seeing students as responsible and capable young people and Mike
Wyness (2000, p. 1) reminds us that ‘in many contexts and for a variety of reasons,
the child as a subordinate subject is a compelling conception’. Student voice
initiatives require that we review our notions of childhood.
A more immediate constraint on action is uncertainty about what’s acceptable in
consultation. Young people may feel that they have a lot to contribute to the
improvement of teaching and learning but they are uncertain how to proceed and
tend to remain silent—unless a visiting researcher provides a one-off outlet for
comment. The idea of students and teachers discussing their work together can
generate a lot of anxiety: at first teachers are likely to be anxious about what students
might say about them. Our experience, however, is that in most settings young
people are serious, courteous and constructive in their commentaries on teaching
Student voice and the perils of popularity 225
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and learning; harsh criticism of school regimes tends only to be triggered by
perceptions of the invidiously different ways that different groups are treated, valued
and privileged but if schools are to improve, this is the kind of uncomfortable self-
knowledge that they need to confront (see McIntyre et al., 2005). Students can also
be anxious: younger students are concerned because commenting on what teachers
do is seen as ‘rude’ or ‘wrong’; older students, however, are more inclined to be
anxious because they fear retaliation:
They might get offended, because it’s not nice if you say, like, ‘Our lesson is rubbish’—
they’ll get upset about it.
I don’t want to get detention, and I think he’d feel like, ‘If you can’t say anything nice
then get out of my class’.
It’s better to write it down than to tell her because then she can’t shout. (quoted in
Rudduck, 2006)
Anxiety is an understandable response to novel situations and teachers’ anxiety can
be allayed by hearing accounts from colleagues who have tried giving students a
voice, who have survived the experience and become excited by the possibilities it
opens up—or by hearing students from their own school discussing ways of
improving learning or presenting the outcomes of their students-as-researcher
Staff that you thought wouldn’t ever listen who’d say, ‘Fine, yes, but that’s not for
me’—once they see the students reacting and hear what they’re saying—and they may
be saying in a lesson, ‘Well would you mind if I did that a slightly different way, would
that be all right?’—they’re suddenly thinking, ‘Well, maybe they do know what they’re
talking about’. (Mulliss, 2002, p. 2)
There is, in the present climate, some security in the idea of moving towards familiar
goals in familiar ways, but many teachers, impatient with what Frowe (2001) calls
‘the commodification of education’, and its modernizing vocabulary of ‘delivery’,
‘consumers’, ‘markets’, and ‘output characteristics’, seem ready to trade in the
quieter life for more risk and excitement and a better deal for their students.
However, in most schools it will take time and patient commitment to build open
and dependable structures which will enable students and teachers, as partners, and
without embarrassment, to talk about what gets in the way of progress in particular
Authenticity is about ensuring that the process of consultation and participation
seems credible to students (teachers also need to be confident that students feel able
to say what they want to say). From the student perspective, authenticity rests on
three things: whether they have been involved in determining the focus of
consultation; whether the interest of adults in what they have to say is real or
contrived; and whether there is discussion of their suggestions and active follow-
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In relation to the first, we believe it important to check out whether the topics
‘permitted’ for discussion in schools are ones that students see as significant and
whether the discussions are occasions for genuine dialogue in which students can
speak without fear of retaliation. Initiatives that seek student opinion on matters
identified, framed and articulated solely by researchers or teachers, or that invite
comment on issues that students see as important and that do not lead to action or
discussion of possible courses of action are unlikely to be seen as credible. Students
will soon tire of invitations (a) to express a view on matters they do not think are
important, (b) are framed in a language they find restrictive, alienating or
patronizing, and (c) that seldom result in actions or dialogue that affects the quality
of their lives (see Fielding, 2004, pp. 306–307). And as Fielding and Prieto have
said, using a powerful and memorable image, ‘We … regard it as crucial for student
perceptions and recommendations to be responded to, not merely treated as minor
footnotes in an unaltered adult text’ (2002, p. 20).
Authenticity, then, is the disciplined communication of genuine interest in what
students think and have to say: it’s about learning to listen, to offer feedback, to
discuss what lines of action there are, to explain why certain responses are not
possible. It often involves a readiness to be surprised by students’ insights and
capabilities and not dismissive of their thinking. Roger Holdsworth suggests that we
have traditionally relegated young people ‘to a less significant realm than those who
have reached ‘‘adult’’ life’ and that by doing so we obscure both the richness of their
experience and their capacity to do more than schools routinely expect and allow
(2001, p. 2). And Hall and Martello (1996, p. 72) argue that adults cannot and don’t
‘know better than kids’ how kids think and feel about school and that ‘too often the
assumption is made that children are unable to articulate the complex meta-
cognitive that goes on inside their own minds’.
There is a risk that in putting so much emphasis on students we forget the pivotal
role of the teacher in managing change—and some have told us that before they can
focus wholeheartedly on student consultation in their school, they need to feel that
they have a voice in the review and formulation of policy—that they matter.
In the context of student voice the issue of language is complex—and potentially
divisive. According to Gerald Grace, ‘discourses are about what can be said and
thought but also about who can speak, when, where and with what authority’ (1995,
p. 26); they carry implicit messages about membership. In developing consultation,
we need to monitor whose voices are heard in the acoustic of the school—and
students can often tell us: ‘I think they listen to some people, like the good ones’, and
again, ‘If you’re doing well they listen’. The problem is that consultation assumes a
degree of social confidence and of linguistic competence that not all students have,
or feel that they have, as Shirley Brice Heath is well aware:
For many young people who have not participated extensively at home or at school in
open discussions or small group conversations, and as planners and thinking
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partners, their facility with certain language structures lies dormant. (Brice Heath,
2004, p. 53)
The more self-assured and articulate students may dominate consultative conversa-
tions and be more readily ‘heard’ by teachers but it is the silent—or silenced—
students who find learning in school uncongenial whom we also want to hear from so
that we can understand why some disengage and what would help them get back on
track. Elena Silva (2001, p. 98) urges us to think about ‘which students are
representing the ‘‘student voice’’ of their school’. And in the context of reform, she
asks whether those students who are ‘best-served by the current setup of their
school’ can represent the interests of those students ‘who are least-served’.
The important point here is that consultation processes can sometimes sustain
habits of mind that lead to some students being valued above others. As Ranson has
said ‘the idea of inclusive citizenship requires recognition of different voices as well
as fair distribution of resources which provide the condition for equal participation’
(2000, p. 265).
Surviving in an innovation-rich environment
Over the last few years some new terms have become more commonplace in the
language of change, such as ‘innovation overload’ and ‘innovation fatigue’. Indeed,
some teachers and teacher educators have said that they would be relieved if policy-
makers and other agencies would stop producing and promoting ‘initiatives’ that
they feel obliged to do something about. Many, they know, are important, such as
raising boys’ achievement, learning to learn, assessment for learning, obesity and
health awareness, student voice, personalized learning, sustaining engagement post-
transfer; the dilemma is how to do justice to these issues while at the same time
ensuring that students are actively engaged in school and making good academic
Among these potentially competing initiatives, student voice has a lot going for it
in that it is a dimension of some other high profile initiatives and it is relatively easy
to see how they could work together in mutually re-enforcing ways. For instance, the
Assessment for Learning Reform Group advocates student involvement in
assessment practices, and student voice has been presented as one of the nine
‘gateways’ to personalized learning; it is also fundamental to the realization of
citizenship education in the here and now community of the school. So, student
voice is currently popular but one of the perils of popularity is surface compliance.
Schools may well feel obliged to be seen to be ‘doing it’—taking it on board without
having the time to think through why they want to do it, how it fits with other
initiatives within the institution’s development plan and scheme of values, and what
the personal and institutional risks are.
We also have to recognize that in developing student voice we may be out of step
with powerful contemporary concerns that limit the possibilities for change by
defining student achievement narrowly. In one school we worked in the teachers,
although committed to student voice, felt that it would take time away from coverage
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of the curriculum and that this would compromise their performance in the league
tables; their strategy was to regard consultation as an end of term treat. Ben Levin,
researcher and policy-maker from Canada, says that when we hear what students
identify as the main elements of schooling—‘memorization and passing tests’—we
realize that ‘we have failed to communicate our broader goals and aspirations for
schooling in ways that enable young people to understand what learning is for and
how it is ‘‘for them’’’ (2000).
So, although the idea of student consultation and participation is supported by
policy-makers and has a place among the criteria that inspectors use in judging a
good school it is not mandatory and ‘fitting it in’ is a problem. Another problem is
that there has been as yet no formal expectation that teachers in training should be
introduced to its strategies and rationales. An important concern for the longer term
survival of student voice is building a coherent and secure school-wide foundation
for the work. While there are often patches of exciting work on student voice, it can
be difficult to move from these islands of risky commitment to the mainland of the
school and create a ‘productive community’ that is characterized by ‘citizenship as
practice’ (Biesta & Lawy, 2006, p. 72).
But perhaps the most challenging long-term issue for all of us is the one raised by
Stewart Ranson when he asks whether encouraging young people to find a voice and
to learn the practices of cooperative agency is fundamental to the revitalization of our
schools as learning communities within a democratic society. Are we creating a new
order of experience for students in schools, new roles for teachers and students—or
will the idea of consulting students prove to be little more than a passing fashion, a
tokenistic nod in the direction of consumerism?
1. This passage is based on Caroline Lanskey’s work for the ESRC/TLRP Project, Consulting
Students about Teaching and Learning (see Lanskey in Rudduck & Flutter, 2004).
2. This passages is based on the second memorial lecture for Harold Dent given by Jean Rudduck
in 1998 and printed in 1999.
3. The passage on Alexander Bloom draws substantially on Michael Fielding (2005).
4. The 1998 Report of the Government’s Advisory Group, known as the Crick Report, argued
strongly that democracy should be included in the curriculum but was strategically somewhat
ambivalent about the balance between the principles being taught about and actually being
. We unanimously advise the Secretary of State that citizenship and the teaching of
democracy is so important both for schools and the life of the nation that there
must be a statutory requirement for schools to ensure that it is part of the entitlement
of all students. (Crick, 1998, p. 7; emphasis added)
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... In this respect, Rudduck and Fielding (2006, p.221) found that the '... student voice is not a new topic for Educational Review, which had devoted a whole issue to it in 1978'. Mukherji and Albon (2011) mention that the interest in hearing children's voices has been apparent since 1980; however, nowadays, the 'children's voice' expression is considered a logical enquiry in children's lives, with each government providing different types of support on this issue and achieving this idea (Rudduck & Fielding, 2006). ...
... The participation process is founded on two key principles: allowing children to express themselves by voicing their opinions, whilst the adult's role is to support them and frame the idea for easy implementation (Ghirotto & Mazzoni, 2013 [2014][2015]. Moreover, as can be seen through Rudduck and Fielding's (2006) perspective, allowing children's voices to be heard is a more superior concept than allowing them to simply say what they want because finding their voice is relative to their identity. What is more, Flutter (2006) (Roberts, 2008, p. 272). ...
... What is more, this finding is in agreement with Reddy and Ranta (2002) and Groundwater-Smith and Mockler (2016), who suggest that having children participate in any project depends on their cultural practices, norms and country context. Additionally, Rudduck and Fielding (2006) propose that it is the government's role to offer different ways of helping children to express themselves. ...
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In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), little is known about Saudi educational researchers’ perspectives concerning the issue of ethics when recruiting children to participate in research. It has come to light that researchers use children to collect their data from but do not give them the opportunity to express their wishes regarding participation in that research, and no ethical consent form is specifically required for children’s use unless the topic of research is sensitive. Accordingly, in the context of KSA, this research aims at identifying and exploring educational researchers’ perspectives about children’s rights when conducting research with children. This research used two methods: Q-methodology and interview. Q-methodology was used to determine the viewpoints of educational researchers working in education departments at two universities in Riyadh city in the KSA (King Saud University and Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University). Fifty-two (52) female educational researchers sorted 54 Q-methodology statements, according to personal opinion, ranging from (+5) most agree to (–5) most disagree, while the interviews were conducted with three policymakers from the National Commission for Childhood and the Ministry of Education. Following analysis of the data, a number of findings were identified from the Q analysis, five factors, and the interview analysis: the need for more childhood and children’s rights studies; the challenges facing researchers when including children as research participants; the weak belief pertaining to children’s capabilities; the low level of awareness of children's participation rights and how the ethics process is in the KSA. These findings illustrate the acceptance of ethics as a process in research. Finally, the effectiveness of using Q-methodology as an approach was confirmed. This research is in a position to inform the Saudi research community and policymakers about current understandings and practices in terms of children's participation in research. The viewpoints that emerged strongly indicate agreement with the concept of ethics when children participate in research. Educational researchers call for ethics guidelines and for them to be compulsory in the KSA and, more significantly, policymakers support their demand.
... The biggest challenge is that the existing power balance is disrupted (Bahou, 2011). This might initially be experienced as unsafe (Rudduck & Fielding, 2006), yet it is at this point that the cultural shift might emerge (Allen, 2021;Bahou, 2011;Cook-Sather, 2006;Fielding, 2001). ...
... These obstacles concern the emotions of actors and are often related to feelings of fear or insecurity (e.g., fear of undermined authority). Although previously related by Rudduck and Fielding (2006) to the process of change towards shared power, it now becomes clear that these obstacles also appear in the other themes: agency (e.g., participants feeling insecure about their social and research capacities) and perspectives (e.g., students feeling vulnerable when sharing their perspectives). This study reveals that participants with negative emotions do not embrace the disruption's potential. ...
For students to learn democracy in their schools, it is critical that they can experience what it is like to participate. However, in Flemish and Belgian Dutch-speaking education today, despite its ambitious democratic goals, few opportunities for participation are provided, a concern that applies even more to urban schools. Understanding how urban schools can create learning environments where students can actively participate was therefore the central focus of this dissertation. Student- teacher partnerships represent a particular case of student participation in this study. From the literature on student participation, and in particular on student-teacher partnerships, three challenges emerged from which research objectives were drawn for this dissertation: (1) gaining an in-depth overview of the processes that elicit transformation in student-teacher partnerships, (2) identifying design principles for establishing participatory urban school contexts, and (3) developing partnership literacy.
... It is common that adults have little trust in students' capacity to hold or express a valid opinion (Messiou and Hope 2015), especially if they belong to vulnerable groups. This attitude can be linked to an outdated view of childhood which prevents adults from seeing young people as responsible and capable of reflecting on issues that concern them (Rudduck and Fielding 2006). Additionally, adults often lack the knowledge or capacity to listen meaningfully and facilitate student agency. ...
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Despite a growing consensus within the inclusion literature on the power of student voice, the way it is currently positioned in educational processes and systems remains problematic. This article argues that attention to student voice within a systemic analysis can deepen our understanding of young people’s experience of educational systems. It draws on data from a field research study which explored in-depth the inclusive experiences of 12 students in 2 English and 2 Greek secondary schools. Using Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory and a critical framework for reflecting on student voice as analytical tools, it examines the interplay between individuals’ accounts of their experience on the one hand, and their characteristics, interactions and environmental systems on the other. It discusses the way these factors shape students’ experiences of a system which is explicitly aiming towards inclusion, by highlighting issues of power and identity as well as contradictions between student and staff perspectives. Overall, the findings of this study suggest that reflecting systematically and critically on student voice provides opportunities for a deeper understanding of the experiences of students in diverse settings.
... Research has highlighted the importance of incorporating the student perspective when developing successful and inclusive school practices for students with ASC (Baines 2012;Falkmer et al. 2015). According to Ferguson et al. (2011), some studies have examined the concept of allowing the active participation of students in decision-making about their learning environment (Cook-Sather 2006a, 2006bRudduck & Fielding 2006;Smyth 2006;Bergmark 2008). This strategy has high potential for increasing student engagement in and motivation for their own learning. ...
Student involvement in assessment is considered essential to assessment for learning (AfL), mainly for developing a shared understanding of what it means to be a competent learner. However, translating AfL into practice has been difficult because teachers are reluctant to co-share assessment responsibilities with students. Thus, this paper explores secondary teachers’ perceptions of student involvement in assessment and feedback from the angle of power relations and highlights the conflicting positions and challenges of inviting students into the decision-making process and negotiations on assessment. The data set was purposefully collected from three focus groups of teachers from three upper secondary schools in Iceland. The findings indicate that power relations influence teachers’ perception of student involvement. Power relations are mediated by teachers’ positions and their knowledge, language, and space. Moreover, the findings show that developing relationships of trust is critical in creating a space for dialogue and student involvement.
COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was declared to be a pandemic and health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March 2020. It led to a series of worldwide ‘lockdowns’ where people were instructed to stay at home. Many children and young people (CYP) did not attend school during this time and COVID-19 has been described as an unprecedented disruption to education in the UK (The Nuffield Foundation, 2020). It is thought that CYP are likely to experience the impacts and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for many years to come (Thompson et al, 2021) and there is deepening concern about the shorter and longer-term impacts for those already identified as vulnerable, such as CYP with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) (McCluskey et al, 2021). Every CYP has the right to express their views regarding all matters that affect them (UN General Assembly,1989), however, as the world has responded to COVID-19 and extensive research is carried out, there is a notable lack of studies hearing directly from CYP about their experiences of COVID-19. To be able to understand a particular phenomenon within a vulnerable population, the perspectives of those with direct experience need to be listened to and understood (Prunty et al, 2012). The current research therefore asked the question: how are CYP with SEND experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic? It aimed to listen to, interpret and report the experiences of CYP with SEND during COVID-19. A qualitative methodology was utilised, and six semi-structured interviews carried out with secondary school aged participants, all with SEND. The data gathered was analysed and interpreted using Reflexive Thematic Analysis (TA) and findings presented according to this approach. The findings illustrated four main themes: government restrictions, learning in a pandemic, relationships and the ‘new normal’. These are presented and discussed in light of theory, research and literature. Methodological considerations are addressed, particularly regarding the data collection process and the sample limitations. Findings are discussed in relation to the research goal which was to provide information and develop understanding for educational services, settings and communities about how best to support CYP with SEND during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. The potential implications for education settings, Educational Psychologists (EP), Local Authorities (LA) and the wider government are acknowledged. The findings also illuminate a number of suggestions for future research.
There is global recognition of the need to teach and assess complex competencies, which are often referred to as twenty-first century or work-ready knowledge and skills. While several assessment frameworks have been co-developed by researchers and teachers to assess competencies in schools, little is known about how these frameworks are shaped, both in product and process, by the active participation of other key stakeholders. This study, therefore, examined the co-construction of a competency-based assessment framework, incorporating the perspectives of teachers, students, and industry partners from an Australian secondary school community. Our findings reveal that the students confidently designed, articulated and justified the framework and then presented this to the adult participants, despite existing power dynamics. In addition, the students were able to navigate the co-construction process through acts of leadership and the use of questioning techniques, unmasking the opportunities for student leadership and voice within the design of assessment frameworks. We argue that the co-construction of assessment frameworks, involving a range of stakeholders, allows for workplace competencies to reflect school priorities and structures while also addressing the realities of the workplace and the needs, capabilities and imagined futures of students.
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This article explores some of the theoretical underpinnings of radical approaches to student voice and examines a number of practical issues we need to address if we wish to move towards a more transformative future. The framework within which the notion of voice is explored and critiqued falls primarily into two categories. The first, Deconstructing the presumptions of the present, explores the largely ignored problematic of much student voice work. (1) ‘Problems of speaking about others’, (2) ‘Problems of speaking for others’, and problems of (3) ‘Getting heard’ reveal a range of issues that need to be better understood and acknowledged. The second, On the necessity of dialogue, attempts a resolution, exploring the possibility of (4) ‘Speaking about/for others in supportive ways’ before offering the preferred (5) ‘Dialogic alternative: speaking with rather than for’ and further developing that line of enquiry through (6) ‘Students as co/researchers’. Finally, (7) ‘Recalcitrant realities, new opportunities’ offers some ambivalent, but still hopeful thoughts about current ­realities and future possibilities.
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In this article we argue for a shift in educational research, policy and practice away from teaching citizenship to an understanding of the ways young people learn democracy. In the first part of the article we identify the ways in which the discussion about citizenship in Britain has developed since the Second World War and show how a comprehensive understanding of citizenship, which has underpinned much recent thinking about citizenship education, has been replaced by a more overtly individualistic approach. In the second part of the article we delineate the key problems of this individualistic approach and make a case for an approach to citizenship education that takes as its point of departure the actual learning that occurs in the real lives of young people. In the concluding section, we outline the implications of our view for research, policy and practice.
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Alex Bloom is one of the greatest figures of radical state education in England. His approach to 'personalised learning' and the development of a negotiated curriculum was immeasurably more profound and more inspiring than anything to emerge thus far from the current DfES. His approach to student voice was much more radical than anything presently emerging from the current new wave of activity. His school, St George-in-the-East, a secondary modern school in Stepney in the East End of London, utterly rejected regimentation, corporal punishment (still the norm at the time) and the use of marks, prizes and competition. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death it is fitting to return to learn again from his still unfulfilled legacy. Alex Bloom is arguably one of the greatest figures of radical state education in England, not only in the second half of the twentieth century when he did his most memorable work, but of the entire period of compulsory formal schooling. The period in which he worked as a headteacher (1945-1955) is relatively neglected; the kind of school he led (a secondary modern school) was, rightly, reviled by many of the comprehensive school pioneers; and the kind of education he advocated in his writing and exemplified in his practice (radical democratic schooling in the tradition of the European New Education movement) is the very antithesis of dominant models of state education to which we have been so destructively and ignorantly subjected for an entire generation. Yet Alex Bloom is one of only two heads of state secondary schools to be mentioned in W.A.C.Stewart's magnum opus The Educational Innovators - Volume II: Progressive Schools 1881-1967. His death on Tuesday 20 September, 1955 was reported the following day in The Times and his obituary which appeared on the Saturday talked of a remarkable man whose school, St George-in-the East, Stepney in the East End of London 'with its bomb ruins and overcrowded homes and tenements' had an international reputation as 'a great educational experiment' (The Times 1955).(1) Here is someone whose work significantly inspired one of the best known novels of the post-war generation (2) and one of the most important literary accounts of secondary teaching ever written in English. Here is someone whose work anticipates and still outreaches even the most creative periods of the comprehensive school movement that were to follow. Here is someone who took the democratic imperatives of lived
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Jean Rudduck and Julia Flutter call for a shift in the way we currently view young people at school and set out a case for radically rethinking aspects of school organisation, relationships and practice. Their research confirms that we need to see pupils differently, re-assess their capabilities and reflect on what they are capable of being and doing.
Early school leaving is one of the most protracted educational problems around the world, but one of the least understood. Central to the issue itself, is the failure by the educational policy community to have ways of adequately 'naming' the problem. The study reported in this paper examines early school leaving from the position of 209 young Australians who had left school or who were at imminent risk of doing so. While acknowledging the considerable complexity of the decision making processes that lie behind this problem, this article provides a tentative theorising that traverses aspects of what we call the 'cultural geography of the high school' as a partial explanation of what is occurring. The question being pursued was how the culture of the school contributed to or interfered with early school leaving.
The challenge of regeneration—of rebuilding urban communities by tackling the intractable collective action problems of the environment, education, transport and health—defies simple solutions. Individuals, if they are to flourish in a risk society, will need to learn throughout theirlives to develop their capabilities. In particular, the qualities of learning communities (reflexive, dialogic, cooperative) will be the condition for addressing these predicaments of our time. If this process is to be inclusive, ‘voice’ will be the distinctive capability which schools should encourage young people to acquire if all are to become active citizens in a just, learning democracy at the turn of a new century.
This paper picks up and discusses issues regarding the relationship between language and practice commented upon by Michael Fielding in an earlier edition of this journal. The position taken is sympathetic to Fielding's concerns but attempts to situate the debate in a wider theoretical perspective. The basic thrust of the argument centres around two considerations: the extent to which language may be said to be partly constitutive of educational practices and a radical misconception as to the nature of education inherent in what Fielding labels 'the language of performativity'.
The study explores how teachers use the ideas that pupils offer when consulted. Six teachers (two each in English, Maths and Science) and their Year 8 classes at three secondary schools were involved. The research was carried out in three stages. During the first stage the focus was on eliciting pupils’ ideas about classroom teaching and learning and teachers’ responses to their pupils’ ideas. Six pupils from each class were interviewed individually about each of three observed lessons. Transcripts of these interviews were fed back to the teachers. Teachers were interviewed about their reactions to them. During the second phase teachers’ use of pupil ideas was investigated and both the teachers’ and the target pupils’ evaluations of what happened were sought. In the third stage, each teacher was visited some six months later, in the following academic year, to explore how far the pupil ideas had had a lasting impact on the teachers’ practice and what use the teachers were making of pupil consultation. Our main findings were: (1) Pupils’ responses were characterised by a constructive focus on learning, consensus about what helps learning, and differences in articulacy; (2) Pupils agreed that interactive teaching for understanding, contextualising learning in appropriate ways, fostering a stronger sense of agency and ownership, and arranging social contexts amenable to collaborative learning were all helpful to the learning; (3) Teachers tended to respond positively and were reassured by the insightfulness of pupil ideas; (4) Teachers differed in what they did in response to pupils’ ideas. Three types of teacher reaction were identified: ‘short‐term responsiveness’, ‘growing confidence’, and ‘problems with using pupil consultation’. Some of the conclusions, based on evidence from the six teachers and their classes, are reassuring for teachers, others are perhaps less so. We construed them as ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’ learnings.