Student Voice: should we listen?
‘Student voice’ was first popularised in the Nineties, motivated by the idea that students with a greater involvement in their school community were better motivated to learn. After signing up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the right of every child to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them was enshrined in law. With Ofsted’s requirement for schools to promote democracy through ‘British values’, over 90 per cent of schools now have their own school council and it seems that student voice initiatives are set to increase.
But there are those who argue student voice policies created a generation of entitled ‘student emperors’, who are used to having their views heard but not challenged. Teaching unions, too, have campaigned against initiatives which involve pupils in lesson observations, interviews and appraisals, claiming that such practices undermine teacher authority and legitimise the criticism of teachers. For these critics, the fundamental superiority of the voice of the teacher over that of the pupil is a necessary premise for education.
Student voice proponents, however, argue that it can empower pupils to challenge bullying and discrimination, improve wellbeing, behaviour and raise attainment. They argue that student voice is key to promoting active citizenship and democracy.
So has student voice gone too far, or not far enough? Does it promote greater responsibility or greater entitlement? If not student voice, then what should teachers and schools be doing to cultivate confident free thinkers who can express themselves clearly?