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Student Voice: A Historical Perspective and New Directions

Authors:
  • Department of Education and Training, Victoria

Abstract

This report summarises local and international literature on the concept of ‘student voice’ and explores the links between student voice and student learning and engagement. The notion of ‘student voice’ helps meet the objectives of developing the interdisciplinary skills vital for a curriculum which reflects the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. Part 1 of this paper examines student voice from a historical perspective and summarises the findings of Australian and international research. Part 2 is a review of how Australian jurisdictions are promoting student voice and includes a range of initiatives within the Victorian education system that are contributing to improved teaching and learning, teacher-student relationships and productive learning experiences. It also ensures that the needs of individual students guide the design of personalised learning plans.
Title of publication
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Department of Education
OFFICE OF LEARNING AND TEACHING
PAPER NO. 10
APRIL 2007
Student Voice
A historical perspective and
new directions
Published by Research and Innovation Division
Office of Learning and Teaching
Department of Education
Melbourne
April 2007
Also published on
http://www.education.vic.gov.au/studentlearning/research/researchpublications.htm
© Copyright State of Victoria 2007
This publication is copyright. This publication may be copied for use by all Victorian
schools. Except as permitted above, no part may be reproduced by any process except in
accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968.
Authorised by Department of Education, 2 Treasury Place,
East Melbourne, Victoria, 3002
Authors
John Manefield, Robyn Collins & John Moore (Atelier Learning Solutions Pty Ltd);
Sandra Mahar, Christine Warne
Additional material
Peter Cole
Acknowledgements
This project was managed by the Research and Development Branch, Office of Learning and
Teaching
For more information contact:
Sandra Mahar
Research Manager
Email: mahar.sandra.t@edumail.vic.gov.au or
or
Email: research@edumail.vic.gov.au
Foreword
A curriculum which equips students for the challenging world of the twenty-first century
needs to ensure that students are supported to take increasing responsibility for their own
learning, their physical, personal and social wellbeing, their relationships with others and
their role in the local, national and global community.
The notion of ‘student voice’ helps meet the objectives of developing the interdisciplinary
skills vital for such a curriculum. It also ensures that the needs of individual students guide
the design of personalised learning plans.
The Victorian Essential Learning Standards are a framework of essential learning based on
the premise that there are three components of any curriculum which are necessary to enable
students to meet the demands of a modern, globalised world.
One of the three core strands in the Standards is Physical, Personal and Social Learning
which includes the learning domains of Interpersonal Development and Personal Learning.
In our highly interconnected and interdependent world, students learn to work with others by:
building positive social relationships; working and learning in teams; and managing and
resolving conflicts.
As students progress through school they need to be encouraged and supported to take greater
responsibility for their own learning and participation at school. This involves developing as
individual learners who increasingly manage their own learning and growth, by setting goals
and managing resources to achieve these.
I trust that you will find this report a useful resource for generating discussion in your school
on innovative ways of capturing the authentic student voice as a means of engaging students,
enhancing their educational experiences and improving pedagogical practice.
Dr Dahle Suggett
Deputy Secretary
Office of Learning and Teaching
CONTENTS
Introduction........................................................................................................2
PART 1 – A summary of the literature.................................................................4
Student voice – a historical perspective ............................................................... 4
Evolving definitions........................................................................................ 4
Student voice in Victoria ................................................................................ 6
Student voice: an international perspective....................................................... 7
Why engage student voice?................................................................................ 9
The use and promotion of student voice..............................................................11
Student voice and student engagement ..............................................................13
Student voice and whole school improvement......................................................14
Student voice: considerations for schools............................................................15
Teacher professional development..................................................................15
International case studies.................................................................................18
Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning Project, UK.................................18
Whitman High School, California, USA.............................................................19
Seacrest High School, California, USA..............................................................21
The Manitoba School Improvement Project, Canada ..........................................22
PART 2 – Student voice in Australia ..................................................................24
Jurisdictional support for and use of student voice................................................24
Victoria.......................................................................................................24
Fitzroy High School ................................................................................24
Lowanna College....................................................................................25
Mordialloc College..................................................................................25
Mount Dandenong Primary School............................................................26
Waverley Links Program .........................................................................27
Student Circles......................................................................................28
ruMAD? – Student voice in the community.................................................29
Student Virtual Parliament ......................................................................30
System tools supporting student voice......................................................31
School survey: listening to student views..................................................31
Assessment and reporting.......................................................................32
The Principles of Learning and Teaching....................................................32
High Performing Schools Program ............................................................33
South Australia ............................................................................................33
Student Voice/Learners’ Partnerships........................................................33
New South Wales .........................................................................................34
Consulting with Student Representatives...................................................34
Queensland .................................................................................................35
A Real Voice for Students, Nanango State High School................................35
Australian Capital Territory ............................................................................37
Student Exhibitions – A pilot study in the ACT............................................37
Conclusion.........................................................................................................38
References ........................................................................................................39
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
2
Introduction
This report summarises local and international literature on the concept of ‘student voice’ and
explores the links between student voice and student learning and engagement. The notion of
‘student voice’ helps meet the objectives of developing the interdisciplinary skills vital for a
curriculum which reflects the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. It also ensures that the
needs of individual students guide the design of personalised learning plans.
Research indicates that changing societal attitudes and views of young people over several
decades has led to the development and refinement of the concept of student voice. Part 1 of
this paper examines student voice from a historical perspective and summarises the findings
of Australian and international research. Part 2 is a review of how Australian jurisdictions are
promoting student voice and includes a range of initiatives within the Victorian education
system that are contributing to improved teaching and learning, teacher-student relationships
and productive learning experiences.
The historical perspective on student voice begins in the 1980s. However, this report
concentrates on information from 1990 to 2006. The focus of the literature research was on a
number of key areas, including:
definition and characteristics of student voice
student voice and student engagement
student voice and whole school improvement
local and international case studies incorporating student voice
considerations for schools.
Currently, the concept of student voice is reflected in recent major international reports, with
focused attention being expressed in current OECD reports and in the significant work being
undertaken in the United Kingdom.
The challenge is to ally choice with voice: voice for the pupil, voice for the parent. That is the new
frontier for education. Personalised learning aims to engage every parent and every child in the
educational experience.
Only if we offer the best to students will we get the best. And it means a school ethos focused on
student needs, with the whole school team taking time to find out the needs and interests of the
students; with students listened to and their voice used to drive whole school improvement; and with
the leadership team providing a clear focus for the progress and achievement of each child (OECD
2006, Schooling for Tomorrow: personalising education).
In the United Kingdom the work of David Hargreaves (2004) identifies nine main gateways
for personalised learning. Hargreaves asserts that if we are to ensure that every aspect of
teaching and support is designed around a student’s needs, then potentially the most powerful
gateway for this to occur is through facilitating student voice.
Other researchers (Fielding 2001; Holdsworth 2005) point to the importance of linking
student voice with action, arguing that ‘authentic’ student voice is not simply to provide data
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
3
for others to make decisions, but that it should encourage young people’s active participation
in shared decision making and consequent actions.
A significant body of international literature explores how student voice can provide
opportunities for students to become active participants in their education, including making
decisions about what and how they learn and how their learning is assessed.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
4
PART 1 – A summary of the literature
Student voice – a historical perspective
Evolving definitions
In its modern interpretation, student voice is focused predominantly on the design, facilitation and
improvement of learning (Mitra 2004).
Views about the place of young people in schools and society have changed over the past
generation. Traditionally, the views and opinions of children were often discounted as having
less legitimacy than the views of adults but as attitudes towards children and young people
changed, different views have arisen associated with these changes. Over the past two
decades schools and education systems have used a range of terms that capture the changing
views and developments. For example, in the 1980s, the terminology of the day reflected
current values and beliefs about the place of students within schools. Terms such as ‘student
empowerment’, ‘student rights’ and ‘student participation’ acknowledged the rights of
children and aimed to empower them through various school programs and activities that
were regarded as appropriate. Nationally the Schools Commission (1980) was championing a
more active role for students in schooling and in Victoria the Victorian Institute of Secondary
Education had taken on board projects and activities designed to promote ‘youth
participation’ (Cole 1980) and ‘youth action’ (Emmett et al. 1984) in schools.
Hand in hand with the implementation of personalised learning are strong links with
constructivist learning theory (Bruner 1966) and recent brain research, both of which
emphasise the importance to learning of student autonomy, including students actively
determining what they learn and having a role in the direction of their learning.
A major theme in the theoretical framework of constructivist learning is that learning is an
active process in which learners connect new knowledge and skills to existing ones and, thus,
construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current and past knowledge. This, according
to Bruner (1996) should be achieved through the engagement of learners and teachers in an
active conversation that involves finding out what students already know, linking new
knowledge to existing knowledge and experience, allowing student responses to drive lessons
and change strategies, and encouraging and accepting student initiative.
Similarly, evidence from contemporary cognitive psychology highlights the importance of
effective cognitive and metacognitive skills in learning. It indicates that learning is not in fact
acquired via a building-blocks approach, but it proceeds in many directions at once and at an
uneven pace. Dietel and others (1991) contend that to become competent thinkers and
problem solvers learners must:
think and actively construct evolving mental models
be able to interpret the information they receive and relate it to knowledge they
already have
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
5
be active participants in their own learning if they are to become competent thinkers
and problem solvers.
This research supports the understanding that student voice is one avenue through which
students can explore and construct their own learning, gain more control over the content,
direction and method of learning and develop higher-order thinking skills.
‘Voice’ in this context is ‘not simply about the opportunity to communicate ideas and
opinions; it is about having the power to influence change’ (West 2004). Meaningful
involvement of students means ‘validating and authorising them to represent their own ideas,
opinions, knowledge and experiences throughout education in order to improve our schools’
(Fletcher 2005). It provides opportunities for them to become active participants in their
education, including making decisions about what and how they learn and how their learning
is assessed.
Ranson (2000) argues for ‘pedagogy of voice’, which ‘enables learners to explore self and
identity, develop self-understanding and self-respect and improve agency, capability and
potential’.
David Jackson (2005) maintains that student voice is about valuing people and valuing the
learning that results when we engage the capacities and multiple voices in our schools. It
focuses on realising the leadership potential inherent within all learners. In practice there are
five dimensions to pupil involvement:
1. student involvement in school and community development
2. students as researchers and co-enquirers
3. student feedback on teaching and learning
4. students as peer-tutors
5. student involvement as a manifestation of inclusion principles.
In recent years, the term ‘student voice’ increasingly has been discussed in the school reform
literature as a potential avenue for improving student outcomes and facilitating school change
(Fielding 2001; Mitra 2003; Rudduck & Flutter 2000). In practice, student voice ranges from
the most basic level to sophisticated approaches. At the most basic level, young people share
their opinions of problems and potential solutions through student councils or in focus groups
associated with school strategic planning. At a more sophisticated level, young people share
their ‘voice’ by collaborating with adults to actually improve education outcomes, including
helping to ‘improve teaching, curriculum and teacher-student relationships and leading to
changes in student assessment and teacher training’ (Mitra 2004).
Today, curriculum approaches include allowing for students’ interests to direct their
curriculum and for students to be actively involved in determining what and how they learn.
These approaches, which acknowledge the right of students to have ‘a voice’ in their own
education and school environment, have been relatively slow in coming.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
6
The critical factor in all of the more recent attempts to define ‘voice’ seems to be that student
voice, in the new paradigm, is much more than token consultation with students over such
matters as school uniform, or how to reduce littering. Students want to understand why things
are done as they are and would like to be able to voice their views about change and to have
those views heard (Fielding & Rudduck 2002).
The new definitions involve young people in a true partnership with adults so that they can
influence what happens to them at school, and become meaningfully involved in their own
learning and in school improvement. The purpose of accessing and facilitating student voice
in this sense is to improve the engagement of students and the outcomes of their learning. At
the same time, engagement of student voice helps to ensure that student issues within the
learning environment are addressed.
The concept of student voice in 2006 has grown from these earlier ideas. It is no longer
simply geared to rights and empowerment as it was in the past, but instead focuses on the
notion that ‘student outcomes will improve and school reform will be more successful if
students actively participate in shaping it’ (Mitra 2004).
Student voice in Victoria
From a Victorian perspective the importance placed on student voice can be identified
through various government policies of the past. For example, from 1983-85 the then
Victorian Ministry of Education published a series of policy papers that demonstrated
changing views and attitudes towards young people. In seeking to ensure success for all
students, the sixth policy paper (Ministerial Paper No. 6) stated that schools should ‘ensure
that students are clear about what they are expected to accomplish and provide them with
increasing opportunities to help determine the educational tasks and goals that are set for
them’ (Ministry of Education 1984). Further, schools were encouraged to actively involve
students in their learning by having students participating in setting learning goals and
reflecting on the effectiveness of their learning. Such activities would lead to the
development of skills that were seen as ‘an important basis for lifelong learning’ (Ministry of
Education, Schools Division 1988).
…Students can also contribute views about the kinds of learning they feel are most appropriate for
them. Teachers, working closely with students and parents, are best placed to choose materials and
activities appropriate for individual students. Parents, teaching staff and students who have taken part
in planning a school’s curriculum are more likely to be committed to making it work (Ministry of
Education 1984).
In the 1990s, the Victorian education system underwent a major reform, expressed in the
Schools of the Future (SOF) paper (1993) which focused on the concept of self-governing
schools. Through devolved school autonomy, schools were given the responsibility for
managing school global budgets, developing school charters and codes of conduct and taking
increased responsibility in decision-making, priority setting and managing resources.
Curriculum standards and levels were set for student achievement in eight key learning areas
and schools monitored the way these standards were being achieved. Schools were
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
7
accountable to both the local community and to the Minster for Education on how they were
meeting the standards through various school review processes.
The Schools of the Future initiative (Directorate of School Education 1994) recommended
that teachers draw upon different levels of course advice materials in order to meet the needs
of all students and to decide which approaches were most appropriate to meet the needs of a
particular student or group of students. The place of students, from a student voice
perspective was not specifically articulated in the SOF reform policies. However, there was
provision within the school review process to survey teacher, student and parent views of the
quality of service and teaching and learning conditions at a given school. The student surveys
were optional and survey results were used by schools, school councils and school leadership
teams to guide aspects of school improvement.
The Blueprint for Government Schools (Department of Education & Training 2003) was the
next major reform in Victoria and was developed through an extensive consultation process
involving education ministers, key school and departmental staff, academics, parents and
other key stakeholder groups and organisations. The Blueprint included a number of
‘flagship’ strategies including the development of a broad framework of essential learnings
for all Victorian students. The notion of student voice is implicit in a number of the
strategies. For example, the Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) (DE&T 2004)
stresses the importance of creating learning environments that promote independence,
interdependence and self-motivation. PoLT recommends that student opinions be canvassed
and for teachers to ensure that class discussions are not dominated by the teacher’s voice.
Further, teachers are encouraged to use strategies that build skills required for productive
collaboration as a means of enabling students to actively participate in the negotiation of
roles, responsibilities and outcomes.
Student voice: an international perspective
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) highlights children’s right
to participate. Article 12 states children should be free to express their views and to be heard,
while Article 13 asserts that children have the right of freedom of expression, freedom to
seek and impart information through any media of the child’s choice.
In 1992 UNICEF presented educators with a way to measure situations and activities that
involve students throughout schools to ensure that student voice is more than ‘tokenism.
Sociologist Roger Hart developed a widely used conceptual model for youth participation
called the ‘Ladder of Participation’ based on the premise that participation is a fundamental
right of citizenship (Hart 1992). Hart used the analogy of a ladder to describe progressive
levels of participation in society. The lower rungs reflect symbolic or token participation.
The highest rung of the ladder is genuine participation, which Hart describes as student-
initiated activities in which the role of adults is to provide support.
The Department of Education and Skills in the United Kingdom presented its Five Year
Strategy for Children and Learners in 2004. One of the reform principles underpinning the
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
8
strategy was greater personalisation and choice as being at the heart of better public services
and higher standards. The strategy aimed to ensure a stronger voice for children in the
development of policy and the design of services in every phase of learning. As well as the
choice of an excellent secondary school, ‘every student should, within their school, have
excellent teaching that suits them, building on what they know, fitting them for what they
aspire to, and helping them reach their full potential’. To deliver the goal of student choice
and voice as a driver for reform, the strategy included plans for a national survey of students’
views about the quality of their courses to take place in 2005, the results to be published in a
clear and accessible form, to help other prospective students to make choices which are right
for them.
In 2004 the National Youth Agency in the United Kingdom produced its own set of seven
participatory standards (Table 1) written by young people. The seven standards allow schools
to map the extent and quality of student participation they provide and was designed to be
used as a planning tool to improve the level and quality of student voice in future programs
and activities.
Table 1: Participatory standards
The Building Standards (for the active involvement of children and young people)
The organisation can describe and demonstrate how children and young
people have been listened to on specific issues.
Evidence of Listening
Children and young people can describe and demonstrate how plans have
been put in place to respond to what they say.
The organisation can describe and demonstrate how plans have been put
in place in response to what children and young people have said.
Evidence of Planning
Children and young people can describe and demonstrate how plans have
been put in place in response to what they have said.
The organisation can describe and demonstrate what changes have
resulted.
Children and young people who have been involved can describe and
demonstrate what changes have resulted.
Evidence of Change
A wider group of children and young people and others in the community
can describe and demonstrate improvements in response to the specific
issues.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
9
Why engage student voice?
Studies show that students themselves yearn for deeper engagement throughout their
education (Kushman 1997). A survey of high schools in Kentucky (Patmor 1998) asked
students and teachers about their expectations and their experiences with school decision
making. He found that both groups strongly agreed that students should be involved in
decisions about extracurricular issues, which classes students take, how time is used during
the day, and discipline and classroom management policies. Wade and Putnam (1995) found
that ninth and tenth graders attending a summer program for gifted students wanted ‘to
participate in leadership activities that are meaningful and that hold some degree of real
responsibility’.
Students today are the first to have experienced from birth the ‘computerisation of society’
(Fielding & Rudduck 2002). Many of them have important parts of their formal and informal
learning taking place in life away from school, including part-time employment. Many have
more money to spend, and more opportunities for self-expression. In addition, today’s young
people are ‘consumers’ who expect schools, like businesses, to be responsive to the market
place, including being flexible in meeting their needs, rather than expecting them to conform
to meet the needs of business – or schools. Fielding and Rudduck maintain that if schools are
to reflect the different capabilities of this new generation they need to respond to ‘repeated
calls from students for responsibility, more opportunities to contribute to decision-making,
more opportunities for dialogue about learning and the conditions of learning’.
In contrast, many see a growing gap between their lives and the lives of those who are
successful in education. Ensuring educational success for all is a key tenet of all education
authorities throughout Australia. The research shows that when schools engage student voice
they create opportunities to facilitate a stronger sense of:
membership, so that students feel more positive about school
respect and self-worth, so that students feel positive about themselves
self as learner, so that students are better able to manage their own progress in
learning
agency, so that students realise that they can have impact on things that matter to
them in school (Fielding & Rudduck 2002).
In best practice approaches, student voice may also ‘make real’ some of the highest education
aims. For example, it may:
increase the involvement of historically disengaged and underachieving students
(Mohamed & Wheeler 2001)
promote citizenship and social inclusion, as well as social responsibility (ibid.)
enhance personal and social education and development, assisting students to become
more confident and resilient (Cruddas 2005).
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
10
David Jackson (2005) promotes six reasons why student involvement and student voice
strategies make sense. They are:
educational values: valuing the learning that results when we engage the capacities of
the multiple voices in our schools
community values: school communities characterised by collaborative, aspirational,
optimistic and high challenge cultures.
rights: students are a significant voice in schools
social responsibilities: young people have rights and responsibilities now enshrined in
international law
legitimacy: the authenticity of student perspectives about learning and school
community
pragmatics: if students are not allowed to change what they do, then we will never
transform learning.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
11
The use and promotion of student voice
A search of the literature provides many examples (Grace 1999; Gordon 2003; Cruddas
2005) of schools involving students in education planning and improvement. They include:
students participating in curricular planning meetings; co-creating new school designs and
facilities; planning the school day; and planning and constructing learning units, with the
assistance of teachers. The form of participation by students in education planning and
improvement is generally by way of focus groups, surveys or joining with teachers in
discussions on school planning days.
Other studies have accentuated the importance of linking ‘voice’ to ‘action’ (Fielding 2001;
Holdsworth 2005). They have seen the central issue of student voice not as one of providing
data for others to make decisions, but as integral to encouraging young people’s active
participation in shared decisions and consequent action about their own present and futures.
This participation is strongly linked with the constructivist theory (Bruner 1966) of learning
which emphasises the importance of students actively determining what they learn and
having a role in the direction of their learning.
Fielding’s (2001) framework for evaluating the conditions for student voice is presented
through a series of questions which need to be answered to probe what he calls the ‘rhetoric
and realities of student voice’.
Fielding identifies nine sets of questions about student voice. They are:
1. Who is allowed to speak?
2. Who listens?
3. What skills are required and what support is provided for their development?
4. What attitudes and dispositions are needed to transform skills into meaningful
realities?
5. What systems are needed to sustain this kind of work?
6. What kinds of organisational culture need to be developed to enable Student voice to
thrive?
7. What spaces, both physical and metaphorical are needed for participants to make
meaning together?
8. What are the implications for action?
9. What are some of the key considerations to take into account in helping Student voice
to be and become a significant part of the process of communal renewal?
Research findings suggest the following.
Some young people, particularly middle class girls, are more willing to speak than
others while those who are perhaps least served by schools are less willing to speak.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
12
Often students are not able to speak to those who have the power to change what
happens in schools.
The subjects that students are encouraged to speak about are often of low level
importance, while important matters such as teaching and learning are largely
forbidden areas for student voice.
Because people adjust their behaviour depending on the context, student discourse
may be inhibited. The student/teacher relationship is one of a fragile power balance. It
is one of internally and externally subjective judgement that impacts the personal
efficacy of both teacher and student. Within such a context, it is little wonder that
traditional power relationships and learning delimitations generally provide long
tested security, if little challenge or support for deeper learning.
The very people who most benefit by maintaining the system as it is; that is, those
who find success in the system, are also the most likely to be involved in consultation
and conversation, while the most disengaged are least likely to raise their voices.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
13
Student voice and student engagement
Recent research studies have emphasised the importance of student voice in building
engagement in and with schools (the UK ESRC Consulting Pupils about Teaching and
Learning Project; Fielding & Bragg 2003; Johnson & O’Brien 2002). Significant in this
research has been the finding that, when students are given a voice, they become more
engaged with learning. Moreover, teachers gain insight into how to support student
engagement and build more positive and collaborative relationships with students. Given the
recognition in educational research literature of the importance of student engagement in
effective learning, such insights constitute valuable professional learning.
The Australian Curriculum Studies Association (1996) identified enhancing student
engagement in learning as a key challenge particularly associated with the middle years of
schooling.
As part of its middle years strategy, the Victorian Department of Education, in collaboration
with the Department of Justice, set up the Student Action Teams Program in 1998. The
program was designed to provide opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution
including opportunities for valued responsibilities, making decisions, being heard and
contributing to community. In a Student Action Team, a group of students identify and tackle
a school or community issue: they research the issue, make plans and proposals about it, and
take action on it. An evaluation of the program identified gains in the personal development
of students including enhanced self-esteem, school commitment and communication and
teamwork skills (Holdsworth 2000).
Cole (2006) also suggests that dissatisfaction and disengagement with schooling peaks at
Year 9. Young adolescents are not willing to be passive recipients of the education provided
to them. Cole suggests that to increase engagement, students should be identified as active
agents in their own learning and be provided with greater choice and responsibility for co-
constructing learning and reflecting on the process of learning itself.
The Taking Young People Seriously handbooks (Youth Affairs Council of Victoria 2004) are
a series of resources exploring young people's participation in their communities. They were
developed by the Youth Affairs Council and the Office for Youth, Department for Victorian
Communities as the product of a partnership project called Participation in Practice. The
handbooks outline some principles of young people's participation and practical advice that
help ensure that young people are included, empowered and purposefully engaged.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
14
Student voice and whole school improvement
Mitra and Frick (2004), argue that what is missing in the discussion of school reform is ‘the
question of ownership – that is, who gets to define what the problems of a school are, and
who gets to try to improve them?’ They suggest that asking for student opinions, and
listening to student voices, reminds teachers that students possess unique knowledge and
perspectives about their schools and their learning which adults cannot replicate. They also
suggest that school improvement is positively impacted upon by listening to student
experiences, particularly the experiences of those who are alienated and struggling.
Mitra and Frick outline a number of research projects where students, through presenting a
different perspective on student learning and engagement with their schools, impact on
school improvement. They make the case that real improvement is more than just collecting
data from students, although listening might be the first step, and it certainly offers rewards in
encouraging school personnel to challenge their assumptions about problems and solutions
available to them.
When, however, students are involved in collaboration and leadership, there are rewards in
youth development and overall growth that not only result in particular school improvement
initiatives, but also meet fundamental developmental needs of students, particularly those
least engaged in schooling. Real change in schools results, Mitra and Frick argue, when
schools take risks by offering students opportunities to build adult-student partnerships.
Involving students as partners in their education strengthens their self-esteem and respect and
provides practical agendas for improvement that have student support.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
15
Student voice: considerations for schools
Local and international research identifies a number of challenges related to student voice.
One such challenge for schools in providing opportunities for authentic student voice relates
to the skills students require to ‘articulate what is important, insightful or relevant to anything
other than the more trivial or insignificant of matters’ (Fielding & Rudduck 2002). Fielding
asks:
Are the skills of dialogue encouraged and supported through training or other
appropriate means?
Are those skills understood, developed and practised within the context of democratic
values and dispositions?
Are those skills themselves transformed by those values and dispositions?
Of equal importance is the attitude of teachers and administrators to students being allowed a
say in what happens to them at school, particularly if what they are discussing is how and
what they are taught. For many educators, student voice can be threatening, particularly if it
is given equal weight with ‘teacher voice’ (Fielding & Rudduck 2002). Because what
students have to say about teaching and learning may be threatening to teachers, the
temptation might be to silence student voice or to limit it to areas of relative safety, such as
school uniform, litter policy, the colour of school walls, etc.
The Consulting Students about Teaching and Learning project in the UK is a sound source of
information about some of the difficulties in implementing student voice. The finding from
this research was that consulting with students is not easy, and finding time and space in the
curriculum are major obstacles for the implementation of student voice.
The dilemma for teachers is that students are very perceptive about recognising ‘token’
consultation, but the pressures of lack of time can result in teachers squeezing student voice
into the curriculum and then not following through on student suggestions. There is also a
problem if what students are asked about seems unimportant to them. The researchers on the
UK project found that students quickly tired of invitations to express their views on matters
such as school uniform, particularly if they found that nothing happened as a result of the
consultation, or that no real action was taken on matters that actually affected the quality of
their school life.
Teacher professional development
Current literature almost universally assumes that professional development for teachers and
administrators ‘lies at the centre of instructional improvement’ (Elmore & Burney 1997).
One of the central principles of good practice in professional development is feedback (Joyce
& Showers 1982). In the past this feedback has come from skilled practitioners with expertise
about good teaching. The data from the UK’s Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning
project suggests that reflection on practice, without listening to student voices, is limiting the
evidence and the challenges to thoughts that are critical to honest reflection. The research
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
16
suggests that if teachers are to provide experiences that engage students and involve them in
constructing their own learning, they must first listen to what their students have to say
(ESRC).
Research indicates that implementing student voice in schools requires training and
professional development of teachers in a number of areas, including providing access to the
philosophy and research around student voice, developing skills to implement student voice,
and providing support for both students and teachers in their efforts to work together to
improve outcomes. The Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning project in the UK
suggested some key principles that need to be embedded in professional development
activities on student voice. These included:
reassuring teachers, pupils, parents and governors that consulting pupils is recognised
nationally as both legitimate and desirable
building up support among teachers (who may be sceptical) by presenting evidence of
the positive outcomes of consultation
being sensitive to the anxiety experienced by teachers who have not before consulted
pupils about teaching and learning
encouraging and supporting initiatives among volunteers, including newly qualified
teachers
devising procedures which allow teachers to observe and learn from one another’s
consultative practices
making innovative practice public, sensitively and supportively
ensuring that other school policies and initiatives are in harmony with the values that
underpin pupil consultation
modelling behaviour which demonstrates openness to learning from pupils
ensuring that consultation is pursued through a range of avenues and not seen as
something simply for a school council
developing links with other schools that have ideas and practices to share
organising workshops and inviting facilitators (preferably teachers) who can
demonstrate, advise and support new forms of consultation
giving student voice a central place in school self-evaluation.
In addition, researchers point out that teachers need to develop some specific skills that may
or may not be included in current pre-service and in-service training. From the case studies of
activities that have been undertaken in Canada, the UK, the USA and Australia, some of
these skills are obvious; others may be inferred. Suggesting the need for explicit training,
these skills are, inter alia:
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
17
analytical skills that allow teachers to access the research around student voice and
adapt it to suit their needs and contexts
collaborative skills needed for effective participation in groups, including both
participation and facilitation processes
skills in how to use and interpret data and to institute appropriate change as suggested
by the data
skills in using consensual decision-making processes
skills in integrating student voice into meaningful involvement with the curriculum
well developed research skills to both assist students in their own research and
undertake their own action research
skills in and commitment to change management.
While the explicit inclusion of the research on and skills development in making use of
student voice is needed in teacher pre-service training, there may also be a need to have
student voices involved with and represented in discussions about the content and processes
in pre-service training. Similarly, student voices could to be involved with and represented at
teacher professional learning activities, many of which can be supported in situ within the
classroom.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
18
International case studies
Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning Project, UK
The Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning Project was part of the UK Economic
and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Teaching and Learning Research Program. It
involved the analysis of data gathered from 48 primary and secondary schools located in
different parts of the UK. The schools took part in a three year research project, completed
between 2001 and 2003.
The Teaching and Learning Research Program involved a network of six projects:
1. how teachers respond to students’ ideas on improving teaching and learning
2. ways of consulting students about teaching and learning
3. student perspectives and participation: starting and sustaining the process
4. the potential of students to act as (co)researchers in the process of teaching and
learning
5. how the conditions of learning in school and classroom affect the identity and
participation of different groups of students
6. breaking new ground: innovative initiatives involving student consultation and
participation.
In four of these projects teachers were engaged in developing consultation with students.
Research teams offered support, documented progress, and helped to monitor impact. Two of
the projects were researcher-led, with the agenda set by the project team. These research
projects investigated: (1) how teachers make use of student commentary on teaching and
learning; and (2) what insight pupils can offer about the social interaction of the classroom.
The aims of the project were to:
identify strategies which help teachers consult students about teaching and learning
gather evidence of the power of students’ comments to improve teaching and learning
gather evidence of the impact of consultation on students, teachers and schools
develop ways of building consultation into the organisational structure of schools.
Evidence of the impact on classrooms and schools was collected: via the testimony of
students and teachers using documentation and audio recordings of the views of students,
teachers and the school principal, in individual interviews and group discussions; through
observation in classrooms; through videos of class interactions; and in examination of the
products of classroom work and workshop activities. In addition, the impact of the
consultation was confirmed through an end-of-project survey of 96 teachers.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
19
Outcomes
Researchers involved in this project (Flutter & Rudduck 2004; Arnot et al. 2003; Fielding &
Bragg 2003; MacBeath et al. 2003) concluded that consulting with students engaged them by
promoting active participation in their own learning. Students were more engaged when they
saw that their opinions were listened to and used to transform pedagogical and organisational
practices.
In addition, the researchers found that student voice lifted students’ self-esteem and yielded
practical agendas that transformed teachers’ knowledge of students, transformed practice and
transformed student-teacher relationships.
Teachers reported a new sense of excitement about their teaching as a result of student
participation in the project. Teachers also appreciated the deeper insight they developed into
students’ capabilities and the practical agendas for improvement arising from the project.
Finally, they reported that the project influenced their practice as they gained insight into how
to support engagement and build more positive and collaborative relationships with their
students.
For schools, the benefits were improved engagement of students with their schools and with
learning and the fact that students were able to identify with the practical agendas for change
which arose from the project. Because the projects engendered partnerships with teachers,
student-teacher relationships were improved, students experienced democratic principles and
processes, and the capacity of schools as learning organisations was increased.
Specifically, with regard to the research projects, the researchers found that consulting with
students carried the potential to change and improve classroom teaching and learning, and
that teachers were able to see the potential of consultation to assist them in planning and
practice.
The four development and research projects provided consistent evidence from both teachers
and students that student voice stimulated a more positive attitude to learning.
Although the researchers found benefits for teachers, students and schools as a result of
involvement in the projects, they cautioned that these benefits were dependent on, ‘among
other things … clarity of purpose, a careful climate setting, an ability and willingness to listen
and an understanding of what consultation really means’.
Whitman High School, California, USA
Improving engagement and a sense of belonging through student voice
A Californian initiative, the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative (BASRC) is an example
of how a jurisdiction is approaching the use of student voice in education to improve student
developmental outcomes.
In a study at Whitman High School in California, as part of BASRC, Mitra (2004) collected
data on two student voice activities – the Pupil School Collaborative (PSC) and the Student
Forum.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
20
The focus of the PSC activities was to assist newcomer Latino students with tutoring and
translation assistance by working alongside them in classrooms or withdrawing them for
additional help. The reform effort allowed students and teachers to work together to improve
relationships within their school. In this instance, students not only expressed opinions in
focus groups, they also conducted the analysis of the data.
The Student Forum group consisted of thirty students, across age, race and gender, and
ranging from potential ‘drop-outs’ to the president of the student council. Their focus was to
seek student participation in efforts to reform the school by injecting student voice into
building communication and partnerships school-wide between students and teachers.
The school followed up this exercise with staff development sessions on curriculum reform
which involved students. Students were trained before the session to know the goals, as well
as concepts, such as standards, assessment, curriculum, multiple intelligences etc. to assist
them to actively participate. Teachers were informed that students were ‘partners in the
conversation’ that would take place during the session and rules were described for the
session. For example, individual teachers or students could not be named.
Outcomes
Mitra’s analysis of the data arising from this project revealed that young people who
participated displayed evidence of marked increases in the personal and social assets that
youth development researchers assert are necessary for students to succeed in society. In
particular, there was a strong increase in agency, belonging, and competence.
Students’ sense of agency increased because they felt they had the opportunity to:
articulate their opinions and have their views heard
construct new roles as change makers in the school
increase their power as decision-makers who could ‘make a difference’
develop leadership skills, including an increasing sense of responsibility to help
others in need.
Students’ sense of belonging and self-worth also increased. They developed a sense of
ownership in the school, greater connection to caring adults and to teachers in general, and
increased pride in their school. They felt that people were listening to their perspectives and
that teachers had a deeper understanding and receptiveness to the difficulties in their lives.
Students increased their competence. They reported that they observed marked changes in
themselves, including developing new skills and a more positive outlook on their school and
their lives overall. In particular, there was growth in the competencies of:
critiquing the environment
problem solving and facilitation skills needed to keep an organisation focused and
moving forward
cooperating and negotiating with others
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
21
speaking publicly.
In addition, teachers reported that:
students were increasingly willing to collaborate
student-focused activities seemed to reduce tension between teachers and students and
to help teachers and students to identify one another as people rather than stereotypes
student participation in meetings changed the tenor so that reform-resistant staff
members were less likely to engage in unprofessional behaviour, such as completing
crosswords or reading, during staff meetings and were less likely to openly show
hostility to colleagues.
While students at Whitman High School also reported increased engagement with their
school, their teachers and their studies, two interesting outcomes arose from the Whitman
school case study as a result of the work of students as researchers. The first was the
empowerment and enhanced learning for students who learned how to conduct research and
present findings in a socially acceptable way. The second was the hostility displayed by some
teachers, a small minority, who were offended by the students’ presentation of their research
findings.
As a result of the involvement of students in this project, students reported:
studying harder because their participation in school reform had given them a greater
understanding of the system and what it takes to get to university
taking more responsibility for homework and study
they felt more part of the school community and participated more in other activities
in the school
improved and increased communication between students and teachers.
Teachers also reported that the process had helped them better understand students and made
them better teachers because they had a greater understanding of student issues. The findings
indicate that, not only does engaging student voice provide the opportunity to improve
learning outcomes, it also provides scope for whole school improvement through feedback
about what works for learning.
Seacrest High School, California, USA
Improving educational outcomes through student voice
Through another Bay Area School Reform initiative Mitra describes how Seacrest High
School examined the issue of why a large percentage of students in their first two years of
secondary school were failing (Mitra 2001).
Seacrest High teachers and administrators decided that a critical step in understanding why
students were not successful was to ask the failing students themselves. Students who had
received failing grades in three or more subjects were invited to participate in a focus group,
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
22
led by a senior teacher of the school. The students were encouraged to speak openly and
honestly about how teachers could make schools a better place to learn. In addition to
working with students, the students’ teachers were asked to complete a survey about why
they believed the students were failing. Following the initial focus group, Seacrest High
continued to supply opportunities for student voice by holding eight more focus groups
within the year of the project.
Outcomes
The major outcome of the Seacrest High School project was the clarity it provided for
teachers with regard to what was affecting student success. Students taking part in focus
groups at Seacrest High School spoke about such things as different learning styles, the need
for additional counselling and tutoring and having a sense of mutual respect between teachers
and students. Teachers talked about student lack of motivation (30 per cent) and attendance
(16.5 per cent).
Students of all backgrounds and academic abilities were able to point to aspects of school
structure and teaching that they believed contributed to their, or their classmates, failure;
while teachers pointed to the students being to blame for their own failure. The importance of
looking at the problem from a different perspective was that it shifted the focus from teachers
and students blaming each other, to teachers and students working together to improve
teaching and learning. At the conclusion of the project, students reported an increased sense
of engagement with their school and teachers were provided with specific issues to target in
the upcoming year.
The Manitoba School Improvement Project, Canada
Improving secondary school for students at risk
In 1991 the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation (WDGF) began a program of school
improvement in Manitoba, with an emphasis on improving secondary schooling, particularly
for students at risk. Over time, this program grew into the Manitoba School Improvement
Program (MSIP) and involved 31 secondary schools in total, comprising three separate
groups over three timeframes.
Amongst other things, the MSIP framework for school improvement describes student
learning, curriculum, and instruction as the goals and suggests that schools can reach these
goals by mobilising the involvement of teachers, students, parents, and the community;
connecting to the outside world; broadening leadership; engaging in inquiry and reflection;
creating coherence and integration; and increasing the schools' capacity for change.
One of the notable aspects of the project has been the increasing focus on student voice.
Starting in 1998 and building on earlier successes in engaging students at various schools as
researchers or evaluators (Bryant, Lee & Levin 1997), the initiative has helped to raise a level
of consciousness within Manitoba of the importance of students as critical stakeholders in
education, particularly as evaluators. The premise underpinning the MSIP is that having
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
23
students shape the questions that need to be asked in their schools and then collect, analyse
and present the results provides students with a powerful voice.
Outcomes
An evaluation of the project (Earl et al. 2003) drew the following conclusions.
Group 1 schools (those involved in the MISP initiative 1991-97) reported the most success,
identifying MSIP as a catalyst for change and for the broadening of leadership among staff of
the schools involved. The schools had most success in school improvement initiatives and
had made early gains on measures of student learning. They had maintained or increased
learning on some outcome measures and continued to focus on their school improvement
processes.
Group 2 (1998-99) and Group 3 (2000-01) schools reported an increasing recognition of the
need to use data in planning and evaluation. However, many of the schools struggled to find
ways to measure their success and ensure coherence in their initiatives. They also had, in
2003, seen little impact on student learning outcomes in their schools.
In the 2003 evaluation, the researchers found that there had been some decline in overall
measures of engagement in the project schools from 1997 to 2002. In contrast, a positive
correlation was established between an increase in student voice in the school culture and an
increase in school attachment. Indeed, Earl and Lee (1999) reported that students who had
been unreachable and disengaged were some of the most passionate participants in the school
reform process once they became involved.
An important outcome from this project was that, while student voice can be a positive
process for contributing to school improvement, the researchers found that school
improvement initiatives that are not sustained will not be effective in engaging students and
increasing academic performance and social connection. Student voice alone is insufficient to
drive school reform.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
24
PART 2 – Student voice in Australia
Jurisdictional support for and use of student voice
This section of the research paper discusses how student voice is supported in Australian
jurisdictions. This includes system-level work that has been or is being carried out in
Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital
Territory, as well as examples of individual schools that have been, and are, experimenting
with student voice.
Victoria
Fitzroy High School
Student voice in teaching and learning
Under the Victorian Leading Schools Fund initiative, Fitzroy High School has developed a
strategic plan which aims to monitor the incorporation of student voice into the teaching and
learning culture.
This approach is based on the premise that learning is driven by what teachers and students
do in classrooms, and the activity of teachers in classrooms can be improved when students
provide feedback about teaching and learning.
The plan requires teachers to move from Stage 1 to Stage 4 in a learning continuum. The
movement of individual students along the continuum is tracked and mapped.
Stage 1 No involvement: students are not asked for their opinion.
Stage 2 Listening: eliciting student perspectives as data
Passive Role: student as information source. Students are asked for their opinion
as in a class discussion, focus group or school survey.
Stage 3 Collaborating: sharing planning and decision making
Active Role: student as participant. Students work collaboratively with others and
share opinions.
Stage 4 Leading
Directive Role: students take the lead in design and research into effective
teaching and learning.
In moving towards a more active role, students become participants in school improvement
efforts, influencing the process through conducting action research.
The overall objectives of the plan are to:
develop in students a more positive attitude to school and to learning
improve teacher effectiveness
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
25
provide students with opportunities to learn and grow.
Lowanna College
Problem-based learning model
The pedagogical approach being implemented by Lowanna College uses a problem based
learning model that engages student interest to identify questions and work towards solutions.
This approach:
links with work already commenced in the college, i.e. integrated curriculum, middle
years reforms and significant teachers at Years 7 and 8, and project work at Year 9
promotes student involvement and responsibility for learning
provides scope for students to make choices within a broad framework
maximises opportunities for students to personalise their learning by incorporating
student voice into unit design and student choice into how, what, where and with
whom they work.
Within this model, students learn to take responsibility and exercise control in the learning
process. Formative assessment guides student choice to the appropriate level while student
interest and learning style informs choice in content. The use of problem based leaning is a
vehicle to engage interest and challenges students to accept responsibility for their learning.
Teachers and students make this change by:
focusing on ‘learning to learn’ and supporting the learning process
enabling a planned approach to problem solving
using thinking tools to aid problem solving
using ICT for research and problem solving
personalising learning for students through choice
focusing on the process of learning, as well as the content.
Mordialloc College
Student initiated learning program
Mordialloc College has created an open learning environment which is currently the home for
Year 7 students who spend the first three periods of a four period day there. The centre is
used by Year 8 students for the afternoon period when Year 7 students are using specialist
facilities.
A team of nine teachers is responsible for all students in the centre.
Each teacher (guide) has a pastoral responsibility for a ‘family’ of Year 7 students. The
teaching and learning program is based on student initiated learning and projects with a
strong community connectedness, delivered in flexible groups.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
26
Students, with the support of teachers, develop ways of producing projects that will help
them learn and demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of the essential learning
elements listed on a capacity matrix. Some compulsory tasks are included that form the basis
of essential learning building blocks. The capacity matrix is also linked to a resource matrix
and students use the ‘Self Help’ system to assist their learning, e.g. they try it (self), they
refer to a resource (as indicated on the matrix) or they ask a friend or a teacher. At this stage
they may request a specific workshop if they feel they need to improve their skills or attend a
compulsory workshop.
The family guide takes responsibility for checking that the students in their family meet each
of the essential learning elements.
Mount Dandenong Primary School
Developing leadership through an authentic approach to student voice
This project evolved from the belief that the school was paying lip service to the idea of
students playing a leadership role in their school life. Despite the fact that the school had a
Junior School Council and House Captains, their roles were small and responsibilities were
minimal. The school decided that their ‘voice’ as student leaders was not clearly heard and
certainly did not impact on the running of the school, or the lives of students.
The central aim of the project was, therefore, to develop a more powerful and meaningful
voice within the student community by consulting with staff and senior students on the
qualities required in their student leaders and inviting potential student leaders to deliver
prepared speeches to assembly to demonstrate their leadership qualities.
In the first year of the project, it is reported that students voted for the ‘coolest kids’.
However, after further exploration of roles and responsibilities, choices in subsequent years
have been more measured and successful with candidates using the opportunity to further
develop their leadership skills.
The second phase of the project focused on House Captains, and the fact that once their
duties in organising House sports were over, their role was finished. The school believed that
to have any impact on the development of student learning, the roles allocated to students
must be authentic. In 2004 therefore, the school implemented the Senior Leadership Team,
comprising the eight Grade 6 House Captains. The House Captains meet on a regular basis,
have a formal meeting structure from which minutes are taken, and discuss issues from a pre-
planned agenda.
At the time of reporting on the project, the Senior Leadership Team had:
organised a working bee to create a new Grade 6 garden
taken a series of photographs of the working bee, and of other events, courtesy of the
team publicity officer
organised the official opening of the garden. This involved: sending notices to the
Grade 6 students and invitations to the special guests including the parents who
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
27
helped with the working bee; inviting the principal to make a speech and cut the
ribbon; and organising the food, decorating and clean-up for the party.
written ‘thank you’ letters to parents and organisations who helped with the project
participated actively in the ‘Readiness for School’ evening with students writing
speeches and practising them during the meetings. Techniques of public speaking
were considered and put into practice. Students greeted the guests, spoke to the
meeting about aspects of school life, led tours and served the guests with supper.
Staff at the school reported that the children have really progressed as leaders, that they take
their roles seriously, and that they are really excited by the challenges presented to them. By
allowing students to have a voice, they have grown in self-confidence, developed their
decision making skills, and further developed their speaking, listening and oral presentation
skills. Individual self-esteem has risen and students have discovered how problems are
solved in groups, the school and the community. Students have learned that they can take
responsibility for their own school environment and learning community.
Waverley Links Program
Using student voice in student leadership programs
The Waverley Links Program involved a group of Victorian government primary schools
comprising Brandon Park, Highvale, Pinewood, Monash and Syndal South.
The aim of the program was to develop student leadership skills in order that the ‘voice’ of
school leaders in the school could be more effective. Central to this was a leadership training
program, conducted over two days, which was attended by 50 School and House Captains
from the participating schools.
Students were trained to perform leadership duties, such as public speaking, listening to and
being able to clarify the issues of the student body they represented, writing articles for
school newsletters, conducting, chairing and participating in formal student meetings, as well
as modelling for other students the preferred values of the school.
Included in the program was also a visit to the local government offices to meet the Mayor.
Here, the young leaders learned about decision making within local government and gained
an appreciation of meeting protocols and the importance of open and transparent decision
making. Students recognised the importance of keeping a record of meetings and learned the
terminology required. They also had the opportunity to enjoy, and learn from, being part of a
newly formed network of students and to develop common understandings about their roles.
On the first day of the workshop School Support Officers conducted a three hour session to
explore the question of ‘what makes an effective leader?’ The facilitators attempted to:
draw out the concepts of empathic listening, approachability, sympathy, confidence
and integrity
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
28
introduce problem solving and decision making scenarios which help students to
focus on social dilemmas they may be confronted with at school
explore effective communication skills, including helping students to understand that
good communication means being aware of context
assist students to develop assertiveness skills
encourage self-evaluation and reflection.
On the second day of the program the students visited each others’ schools and at each venue
‘home’ students played ‘host’ to the other students, providing a guided tour and a two minute
speech of welcome, a self-profile, and information about their role within the school. In
preparation for the school visits, the students were able to draw on the knowledge they had
gained, in addition to further support from their teacher or principal, to develop their speech
and to format the school tour schedule.
Student Circles
This process has been used in many schools a means for getting student input into how the
school is travelling and how it might be improved. It is also a means for getting staff to
review and discuss what they are doing.
Whilst the process is highly structured, it can be adapted to suit a variety of settings, student
age groups and timeframes. The essential idea is for the whole school to stop what it is doing
and take time out to reflect on a few key questions of importance to the school – perhaps
generated by the leadership team, students, parents or members of the broader school
community. Student Circles focus on questions that require a strong student voice.
The process involves the identification of several questions and then assembling students into
groups to collect their responses to the questions. The level of sophistication of the questions
would need to be appropriately matched to the age and capacity of the students.
As the intent is to surface areas or ideas for school improvement questions would usually
focus on curriculum, teaching and learning and/or other general aspects of the school. For
example, young children might be asked:
What lessons do you enjoy most?
What lessons could be improved?
What things do you like about school?
What would you like to change about school?
Student Circles in the primary school tend to follow the processes outlined below.
A Student Circle consists of 8-12 students of mixed ages P-6 and is facilitated by an
adult – i.e. a teacher, parent, support staff or adult volunteer.
All students across the school are allocated to a Student Circle and assigned a
facilitator and meeting location.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
29
All Student Circle groups are convened at the same time. The process could take up to
2-3 hours.
All children in the Student Circle are given the opportunity to speak. Facilitators
encourage and assist all students in the Student Circle to express a view. Students are
not to speak when someone else is speaking or to put down the ideas of other
students. (An object such as a ball can be used to give a student authority to speak and
this is passed around the group from one speaker to the next. A student can pass if
they do not want to say anything.)
Student views are recorded by the adult facilitator and collated into a chart showing
the number of children who referred to the same aspect.
Responses are analysed and those aspects of school that most students felt could be
improved are identified for further consideration.
Suggestions are documented and students are asked to vote for the two or three
improvement suggestions they most support (taking on more than a few suggestions
at a time is likely to result in a failure to meet students’ expectations).
A chart of students’ most important suggestions and the voting pattern is distributed
to classes so that students can see the ongoing results of their involvement in the
Student Circle activity.
The best ways to implement students’ suggestions are discussed (students could also
be involved in this aspect either through another Student Circle or focus group
activity) and develop an implementation plan to guide implementation of the best
suggestions.
Implementation plans are communicated to students.
Students are followed-up to see if the implemented suggestions are adequately
meeting the needs they identified.
This process is a quick means for engaging all of the students in thinking about the school
and its needs, for demonstrating inclusive and open decision making processes, for assisting
students to reflect on aspects of the school, for demonstrating that student opinions are
important and that issues identified by them will be treated with seriousness.
ruMAD? – Student voice in the community
Education Foundation Australia runs an inquiry-based curriculum program called ruMAD?
(aRe yoU Making A Difference?) which enables students to make a difference in their school
or community, providing innovative learning through social change. Students develop a
skilled and articulate voice not only within the school but as change agents and leaders in
their community.
ruMAD? helps students identify a problem and take planned steps to right it. These are real
world situations in which students have purposeful responsibilities with actual consequences,
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
30
where they can fail and where they are responsible for success. The change-making
experience sees them working as colleagues with a rich range of organisations, partners and
mentors and trains them in the use of industry standard tools and professional processes.
An independent evaluation shows that ruMAD? builds students’ leadership skills, self-
confidence and responsibility for their own learning. It also shows that the ruMAD? model is
most successful when students take genuine ownership of the process.
The story of students in one small rural school exemplifies the ruMAD? experience.
Whitfield District Primary School serves a small agricultural township in the King River
valley 170 kilometres northeast of Melbourne. Jessie’s Creek, which passes through the
township and borders the school, had become an eyesore. It was overgrown with exotic
creepers, ivy and blackberries and used as a dump for refuse. The community had abandoned
attempts to regenerate it.
In 2002, using the ruMAD? framework, students at the school took up the challenge. They
started by trying to clear and revegetate the creek but soon recognised that the task was too
big to tackle alone and began to raise community awareness about the issue.
After carrying out a biodiversity study, students surveyed community attitudes and produced
a brochure promoting the problems and potential future of the site. They issued a press
release, shared their findings with the Wilderness Society and Greening Australia and made
live presentations to the North East Catchment Management Authority and the King Basin
Landcare group. The Authority responded by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the
problems and the work required.
With the assistance of the Authority, students further developed its Water Watch program
and helped trial the effects of weed matting and intensive plantings of grasses and sedges.
Their campaign won grants totaling $26,000 from the Commonwealth Environmental Fund
and Australian Geographic that have been used to transform the creek. It has also involved
the Rural City of Wangaratta, Green Corps, VicRoads and the Typo Station Youth
Opportunity Program.
The school won the 2005 Westpac Landcare Education Award for this work. As the students
said:
You have to believe in what you are doing and make a fuss to get things moving. People were
surprised that kids could do this stuff (Grade 6 students, Whitfield District Primary School).
Student Virtual Parliament
Whilst not strictly a Victorian example, several Victorian schools are included in the list of
around 150 Australian schools along with other schools internationally that have registered to
become users of the Student Virtual Parliament website <http://www.schoolpoll.com/>. This
commercial website is a tool for capturing ‘student voice’ as it provides web-based polling
software for schools. It can be used for conducting student elections as well as for polling
student opinions on any topic the school chooses and assists to take the administrative burden
out of such activities.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
31
System tools supporting student voice
School survey: listening to student views
The Attitudes to School survey is an annual student survey for Year 5 to Year 12 students
offered by the Department of Education to assist schools in gaining an understanding of
students’ perceptions and experience of school. Schools use the survey results to plan
programs and activities to improve the schooling experience.
In 2007, the student survey will include items such as:
My teachers listen to what I have to say.
My teachers try to understand how I learn.
I feel I belong at this school.
I feel good about being a student at this school.
My teachers really want to help me learn.
Experience of this and other surveys suggests that students in Years 5 to 12 are able to
realistically generalise in forming an opinion about a group of teachers, in the same way that
parents do when they respond to the parent opinion survey and staff do in the staff opinion
survey. As the data is not intended for discussion relating to individual teacher performance
the fact that it is generalised is not a disadvantage.
Schools use the data in a number of ways, including:
to monitor levels of student engagement, especially in relation to the effectiveness of
middle years projects
to compare school level data on engagement with statewide benchmarks
to stimulate discussion within the school community about how to improve
engagement
to assist in the identification of areas for improvement and professional development
needs in the school.
The Department is able to aggregate the school data and develop a statewide picture of
student engagement, to be used in monitoring the impact of initiatives for the middle years of
schooling. Over time it will be possible to discern trends in improvements. Gathering
perception data from schools is important if schools are to have a complete picture of their
performance.
On receipt of their reports, schools have found it useful for the leadership team to interpret
the report, present the findings to the staff for discussion and identification of possible actions
and finally discus both the interpretation and possible actions with students.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
32
Assessment and reporting
In Victoria, implementation of the Blueprint (2003) reforms included the development of new
curriculum and reporting guidelines to assist schools in deciding on curriculum development,
improved teaching methods, assessment and reporting. The Department of Education
promotes assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning.
Assessment as learning involves students as active participants in their learning by reflecting
on and monitoring their progress to inform their future learning goals. The Personal Learning
Goals section of the new student report card allows students to document their goals at the
beginning of each semester and report on their progress towards achieving those goals at the
end of each semester.
To enable student to become active participants in the assessment process, teachers
encourage students to reflect on their learning, set and monitor their own learning goals, and
with their teachers, develop strategies for working towards achieving them. When this
happens, students are empowered as active participants in the assessment process, and
assessment is no longer simply something that is ‘done to them’.
Assessment as learning plays an important role in improving student learning outcomes – not
only are students actively engaged in the process, but the process also develops the skills that
underpin the notion of becoming an independent learner.
The significance of supporting students to develop their own learning goals is reflected in the
design of the new student report cards. The Personal Learning Goals section of the report
card allows students to document their goals at the beginning of each semester and report on
their progress towards achieving those goals at the end of each semester.
In some primary schools teachers are using Student Learning and Improvement tools to
encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Students are setting their
own goals, working on action plans for improvement, tracking progress and reflecting on
their learning. Students are reporting a feeling of greater engagement in their learning and a
real sense of being a ‘co-partner’ with their teacher in moving their learning forwards.
The Principles of Learning and Teaching
The Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) were developed to support the professional
development of teachers and provide advice in areas such as diversity of learning and
thinking styles, student-teacher relationships and productive learning experiences. The
relationship with student voice can be identified through the following PoLT statement:
A learning environment that promotes independence, interdependence and self-motivation:
provides opportunities for students to make individual and collaborative decisions about how they
will undertake learning tasks
ensures class discussion is not dominated by the teacher’s voice
canvasses student opinion
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
33
ensures students are encouraged to be involved in determining the aspects of a particular topic that
they wish to cover, and design their own assessment tasks
ensures not all decisions relating to all projects, research and investigations are made by the
teacher.
More information on the Principles of Learning and Teaching P-12 Unpacked can be
accessed at <http://www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/blueprint/fs1/polt/unpacked.htm>.
High Performing Schools Program
Student voice is a key component in the High Performing Schools Program. The program
provides a means of driving whole school improvement by establishing a performance and
development culture. The program is grounded in innovative collaborative processes
involving students, teachers and parents. Student feedback to individual teachers occurs on a
regular basis and is used to create an environment which improves the student’s sense of
belonging and significance.
South Australia
Student Voice/Learners’ Partnerships
The Student Voice/Learners’ Partnerships project is an initiative of the South Australian
Government Social Inclusion Unit, implemented through the Department of Education and
Children’s Services. It is one of seven initiatives undertaken by the Government under its
School Retention Action Plan. The project supports fifteen project schools as districts,
teachers and students work together to find effective ways of involving young people in
significant decision making and action taking in their schools.
The principles that inform partnerships with learners in site and district planning and decision
making include a right to:
‘voice’ that includes the full diversity of learners
access, by providing multiple strategies, support to facilitate the involvement of
diverse learners and ongoing induction of all participants in inclusive decision making
accreditation, which involves learners identifying issues of concern to them as part of
teaching and learning processes, and a right to decision making partnerships
powerful partnerships that involve a sense of ownership and belonging, ongoing
evaluation and improvement of those partnerships, and attention to key elements of
participation so that students are empowered.
A major outcome of the project has been the development of a set of case studies outlining
the experiences of the project schools, although the final report on the overall effectiveness of
the project has not yet been released.
Some individual projects reported in the case studies were: students at Enfield High School
(see below) developing their ‘voice’ to influence curriculum offerings at the school; the
establishment of a radio station at Coober Pedy Area School; and the development of a
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
34
student action team at John Pirie Secondary School with the aim to involve groups of
students in identifying and tackling school and community issues.
Enfield High School
The student voice project at Enfield High School is one example from the Student
Voice/Learners’ Partnerships project. This project was based on the idea that students learn
best when they are enthusiastic about their learning and can communicate that enthusiasm to
others. Year 10 students were given the opportunity to build their interests into the
curriculum via the Voice IT project, a consultation process designed in partnership with
Youth Work students from TAFE, South Australia. The consultation process resulted in
students developing projects ranging from computer building, through to catering, to
developing a bike maintenance program.
Following the student voice project, Enfield High School staff and Year 11 and 12 students
are now exploring how they can map and plan learning so that more students can link their
learning, ‘their passion and their future aspirations’. The coordinators of the project identified
the following positive outcomes from the project.
There is increased commitment from young people and development of skills and
expertise.
Teachers learned more about their students.
Learning partnerships outside of the school have developed.
Students’ interests that were previously outside of the curriculum have been
accredited and are now a strong part of the curriculum.
According to the coordinators, problems encountered with the project:
mainly centred on the fact that traditional structures of schooling are based on a single teacher being in
charge of a class that meets at a set place, at a set time. When teachers work to incorporate students’
passion and enthusiasm into their program, they are often working against what other teachers, and
even some students, expect. This involves a tremendous amount of commitment and time that may
eventually discourage teachers to continue.
New South Wales
Consulting with Student Representatives
The New South Wales Student Representative Council (SRC) is the peak student leadership
consultative and decision making forum and represents all secondary students in government
schools. The Council consists of 22 members, including two Indigenous student leaders,
elected from all regions in New South Wales.
In addition to regular meetings, the Council meets with senior staff of the Department of
Education and Training twice a year. As a result students have a say on a wide range of
issues.
Senior officers:
hear about issues that are being raised by students
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
35
learn about the plans and achievements of the NSW SRC
find ways for staff and students to work together.
A working party of students also organises an annual SRC Conference with regional
representatives elected by their peers at inter-school SRC meetings. In 2005, for example,
126 students, 14 supervising staff and approximately 50 departmental staff and interagency
visitors from across NSW attended a conference which:
focused on ways for schools to create harmonious environments
explored options to enhance community links
created opportunities for student leaders to enhance personal leadership skills.
Students participated in workshops, had opportunities to hear inspiring keynote speakers and
debated recommendations forwarded from school and inter-school SRCs.
Evidence from the New South Wales Department of Education and Training website suggests
that students involved in the New South Wales SRC are developing their leadership skills and
making links with their local communities and with a variety of state government
departments.
Queensland
A Real Voice for Students, Nanango State High School
Nanango State High School began a middle school program in 1999, with a focus on
improved pedagogy, cross-subject planning, teacher teams, social support and intellectual
rigour. In 2001, the school began their IDEAS journey, working with senior students, staff
and community members to articulate a school vision and a school-wide statement of
pedagogy.
Building on these foundations, the English Head of Department introduced a new student
voice approach to increasing student engagement in their learning with a Year 9 class that
was losing focus. Because he had taught the same group the previous year, he already had
strong relationships with the students. In Term 2, 2003, the teacher worked with the class to
develop a shared understanding of good teaching and learning, and get ‘buy-in’ from students
in planning what they would learn and how they would learn it. These principles followed
through for the class in Year 10 in 2004. In 2005, the same approach was instituted with a
new Year 9 class.
The approach included three main strategies:
students devising a statement of good teaching and learning
students working collaboratively with the teacher to develop units of work
students developing a statement of responsibilities.
The process began with every student identifying moments when they felt they had really
learned something and enjoyed doing so. This led to the development of a list of common
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
36
elements of good learning. To give every student a voice, discussions started in small groups,
and then consensus was sought through a whole-class discussion. Following this discussion, a
small group of students developed a good teaching and learning statement for the class.
The development of the good teaching and learning statement was followed by the
development of units of work. Each semester, the teacher asked the class to discuss what they
would like to learn about, and what forms their learning might take. A small group of student
volunteers then worked with the teacher to suggest classroom activities that they would enjoy
and that would enhance student learning. Discussions with students were prefaced by the
teacher outlining the requirements of the syllabus and these ‘absolutes’ were fitted in through
the negotiation process.
A general approach for these negotiations was to obtain class consensus, then meet with a
smaller volunteer group in lunch hours to plan in more detail. The plans were taken back to
the whole class for ratification or modification. The volunteer group met every two to three
weeks to plan future activities and evaluate progress. The numbers of students in the
volunteer groups varied, but generally equalled about a third of the class. The participating
students tended to be the most able and those who found school most challenging, rather than
the students in the middle.
The 2003 Year 9 students also developed a statement of student responsibilities that would
allow the agreed approach to work in practice and was used as a reference tool for the class
throughout the two years of the project.
While neither qualitative nor quantitative data have been gathered at this time, the teacher
made the following observations.
There has been a positive impact on engagement, behaviour and achievement.
There has been some flow-on effect throughout the school as teachers and students
see what is possible when negotiating curriculum and pedagogy.
The students involved have learned how to work in groups, have become more
tolerant, and have developed organisational, writing, IT and interviewing skills.
Team building, class culture, thinking skills, problem solving, communication skills
and social learning have been enhanced.
Students have been involved in presentations with their teacher at a range of
professional development forums for teachers to outline what they did and how it
worked.
It is ‘the process’ that is important – the students’ choices have not been particularly
radical.
The Nanango State High School administration has been supportive of the approach.
Personal relationships with teachers are crucial for early secondary students.
Students are keen to be involved in collaborative planning.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
37
Giving students choice is vital for their engagement with their learning.
Students like setting goals and having established timelines.
The teacher also identified three challenges encountered during the project:
1. The process takes time.
2. Flexibility is required to respond to student ideas.
3. It can be frightening for teachers to share their power.
Australian Capital Territory
Student Exhibitions – A pilot study in the ACT
In 2001 a Year 9 Student Exhibitions Program was piloted by the ACT Department of
Education, Training, Youth and Family Services and evaluated by Brennan et al. (2001). The
Exhibitions Program assisted teachers to develop ‘carefully designed, multi-dimensional’
exhibition tasks that were undertaken by student groups. Upon completion of their exhibition
tasks, students were assessed by presenting their work and learning to a panel at a
‘Roundtable’ meeting. The Exhibition process required students to develop over a term or
semester a portfolio of evidence (including work samples and a reflective journal) on the
processes and progress of their learning in response to the set task and to present a selection
of evidence of their achievement to a Roundtable (or panel) consisting of teachers, other
students and community members. A rubric was designed to assist with the assessment of the
students’ work. The rubric had three elements that assisted with structuring the assessment
process: ‘student as active learner’, ‘student as reflective learner’ and ‘student as presenter’.
Feedback from the Roundtable identified students’ future learning needs and possible
directions.
The Roundtable meeting enabled students to clearly describe to an audience the
understanding and knowledge that they had acquired through engagement with a significant
task over a significant period. Owen (2002) observed that:
The experience of the pilot program indicated the high value many students placed on the dignity they were
shown at the Roundtable. (It required) levels of student control and autonomy, the development of a
language to talk about their own work and learning journey, and a relationship with adults that was
premised on equality. In some cases, the Roundtable was the highlight of the learning experience for
students, convincing them of the need to work harder and providing an opportunity for reflection on their
strengths and weaknesses as learners more generally.
The Student Exhibitions process provides a way of promoting ‘authentic assessment’ by
enabling students to demonstrate what they can do and what they have genuinely achieved. It
also changes the role of the student in the learning process. Consequently the ‘school may be
required to accommodate a more compelling student voice, greater student agency, (and)
higher level participation in democratic decision-making processes that affect their lives at
school’ (Owen 2002).
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
38
Conclusion
Research indicates that changing societal attitudes and views of young people over several
decades has led to the development and refinement of the concept of student voice. Current
research is beginning to suggest that student voice, when it involves students having a
genuine say in their learning, has served as a catalyst for change in schools. Positive
outcomes include: helping to improve teaching and learning; improving teacher-student
relationships; increasing student engagement with their learning; and raising student self-
esteem and efficacy (Fielding 2001; Mitra 2003, 2004, 1995; Rudduck & Flutter 2000).
Researchers found that students who were consulted felt more respected as individuals and as
a body within the school. They also felt that they belonged and they liked being treated in an
adult way. Students at risk of disengaging were found in some cases to ‘come back on board’
as a result of having their opinions heard and acted upon (Rudduck & Flutter 2003).
Mitra (2004) found that student voice activities ‘can create meaningful experiences for youth
that help to meet fundamental developmental needs, especially for students who otherwise do
not find meaning in their school experiences’.
Researchers connected with the projects in Victoria, Queensland, NSW, California, Canada
and the UK, all cited in this paper, also identified the development of students’ skills, in
research, leadership, group work, writing skills and public speaking.
One of the notable aspects of the Manitoba School Improvement project has been the belief
that having students shape the questions that need to be asked in their schools and then
collect, analyse and present the results provides students with a powerful voice.
Drawing on the research outlined in this report, it is clear that student voice initiatives need
the support of the whole school with the whole school culture supporting the processes and
follow up around student voice. Research further suggests that a lone teacher in a classroom
using this approach may become frustrated and so too might the students if they see no
general support for what they have to say, and no opportunity to influence school decisions
and decision makers.
The Victorian education system has demonstrated a policy commitment over many years to
valuing the views and opinions and students. Schools are now demonstrating innovative ways
of capturing the authentic student voice as a means of engaging students and enhancing their
educational experiences. In this, they gradually increase the match between our best
educational aspirations for students and what happens in their daily experience at school.
Student Voice: a historical perspective and new directions
39
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... Students' central place in education should be beyond dispute. It is believed by Manefield et al. (2007) that listening to the students' voice and exploring their opinions is essential before beginning the designing and building up a curriculum, because their needs should be the foundation of the reform process. Waldrip and Taylor (1999) confirmed that the opinions and views of the students should be explored when a curriculum is designed. ...
... Moreover, some believe that taking students needs into considration and involving them in the education reform and development process will not only contribute to the success of these processes but will also produce other benefits. Manefield et al. (2007) are convinced that involving students in the development of education and listening to their views encourages their participation and discussion. This creates a feeling within the students that they are part of the educational process and enhances their confidence in themselves, which is reflected positively in their education and understanding of the lessons. ...
... Over time and through changes in education expectations, this attitude also changed: Students have become active players in their own learning, decision making, problem solving, and knowledge creation (Manefield, Collins, Moore, Mahar, & Warne, 2007). Additionally, engaging students in conversations fosters discovering students' values, beliefs, previous knowledge and experience, thus allowing student voices to inform curricular and educational direction while likewise encouraging and supporting student initiative. ...
... During times of educational reform at local, national, and international levels, student voice has great potential in improving student learning outcomes and increasing the effectiveness of school leadership (Mitra, 2003;Rudduck & Flutter, 2000). Student engagement with educational leaders to improve schools has many forms: from sharing student opinions and solutions to school issues to collaborating with educators to improve educational outcomes (Manefield et al., 2007). ...
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... The study sought to gather the students' views about their experiences of Level 3 Support that year, whether they thought the intervention had helped them as well as the aspects of the intervention that they found the most useful or positive. Capturing the 'student voice' is recognised within the educational research literature (Cook-Sather, 2006;Kane & Chimwayange, 2014;Manefield, Collins, Moore, Mahar, & Warne, 2007) as critical in the process of school improvement as students are 'expert witnesses' of their learning experiences and are best placed to contribute to the knowledge bank that researchers draw from to inform developments in educational policy (Bahou, 2011;Bergmark, 2008). While students with SEBD are '…the least listened, empowered and liked group of students' (Cefai & Cooper, 2010) (p.184), listening to this group is particularly important to develop their engagement with school and personalise their learning but also to contribute to their resiliency and self-esteem (Mohamed & Wheeler, 2001 (p.20) emerging as a theme. ...
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Abstract Occupational therapists face challenges of practice development when working in emerging settings. This study provides an understanding of the process of developing practice in Irish mainstream post primary schools with adolescents with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD). This is a collaboration between the National Behaviour Support Service, Department of Education and Skills and the Discipline of Occupational Therapy, Trinity College Dublin. A school-based self-regulation programme called ‘Movement Matters’ is the focus. Methods An embedded mixed method design was applied to three objectives. The first was to describe and critique the context of occupational therapy practice that led to the development of the Movement Matters Programme (qualitative). A matrix analysis was applied to 12 documentation sources such as peer reviewed journals; NBSS web based information; course manuals; and teacher training courses to critique if and how the programme reflected core occupational therapy theory and values as stated in the vision for the service (MacCobb 2012). The second was to analyse student attitudinal and behavioural measures pre and post participation in the Programme (quantitative). The ‘Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire’ (SDQ) and ‘Pupil Attitude to Self and School’ (PASS) provide triangulated data from the student, parent and teacher collected for 39 targeted students. The third was to map the clinical reasoning process of the occupational therapists who developed and observed the programme in use (qualitative). This is achieved by analysing qualitative data delivered through three semi structured group interviews with two occupational therapists who developed the programme over the course of a twelve-month period of its national piloting. Main Findings The mixed method approach was successful in achieving the research objectives. All the key principals of occupational therapy practice described by MacCobb (2012) are evident in the critique. The PASS and SDQ data created a profile that provides insight into how 39 students from an underserved population (SEBD) experience school. This profile differs from a UK national study norms in most areas, particularly around self-efficacy, self-determination, and motivation as learners. Occupational therapists’ clinical reasoning suggests that the Movement Matters Programme was effective as a self-regulation programme for targeted students. The co-occupation activities of the programme created a social environment which promoted the development of collaborative relationships between teachers and students, acknowledged as central to effective interventions with students with SEBD. Important learning about practice development emerged and recommendations for the profession are provided. The most relevant finding to emerge from this study was that a new interdisciplinary scholarship of practice approach (Fitzgerald and MacCobb, 2017) generated new knowledge in this emerging area.
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The notion of "student voice," or a student role in the decision making and change efforts of schools, has emerged in the new millennium as a potential strategy for improving the success of school reform efforts. Yet few studies have examined this construct either theoretically or empirically. Grounded in a sociocultural perspective, this article provides some of the first empirical data on youth participation in student voice efforts by identifying how student voice opportunities appear to contribute to "youth development" outcomes in young people. The article finds that student voice activities can create meaningful experiences for youth that help to meet fundamental developmental needs-especially for students who otherwise do not find meaning in their school experiences. Specifically, this research finds a marked consistency in the growth of agency, belonging and competence-three assets that are central to youth development. While these outcomes were consistent across the students in this study, the data demonstrate how the structure of student voice efforts and nature of adult/student relations fundamentally influence the forms of youth development outcomes that emerge.
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School improvement, as Ruth Jonathan (1990, p. 568) has said, is not merely a matter of 'rapid response to changing market forces through a trivialised curriculum', but a question of dealing with the deep structures of school and the habits of thought and values they embody. To manage school improvement we need to look at schools from the pupils' perspective and that means tuning in to their experiences and views and creating a new order of experience for them as active participants.
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.