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Pupil Voice and Student Leadership- Good or bad things?

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by oldandrew, Aug 26, 2008.

  1. It's a joke. something that sounds good to politicians but does nobody any good at all and causes kids to miss lessons.
    Further comment here and here.

  2. Thanks oldandrew. You have sent some links showing very strong opinions against the idea of Pupil Voice specifically. I am interested to know whether these are purely opinions (which is absolutely fine as that is what I asked for and keep them coming!) or whether you have seen first hand pupil voice have a negative impact, for example, cause bad behaviour etc or what other research you might have done. One of the articles mentions that when you have questioned pupils about what they want to do more of in the classroom, they have said they want to play more games, chat with friends and do no work. Please could you explain what kind of research this was that you did, how many students you asked, in what context etc and did all students respond in this way.

    I would also be really interested to hear your opinions on Student Leadership - students being given leadership responsibilties within schools - e.g. teaching other students, prefects, leading musical ensembles, supervising younger students for example with music practice/using art rooms, head boy/head girls, student councils. Do these kind of initiatives help students develop as young adults? Gain a sense of responsibility?

    Many thanks again for your input.....!
  3. oldskool71

    oldskool71 New commenter

    Every teacher knows that, for most pupils, if you give them responsibility, they respond to it. After all, its just the same for us as adults, if we are `given a say' and given responsibililty then we respond to that and feel that we are much more a part of the organisation we work for.

    As a school council co-ordinator and Head of Citizenship, I think pupil voice and student leadership are very important. Firstly students achievement is better in schools where is strong pupils voice and where pupils are given reponsibility. Refer to the link below for the evidence:-


    Secondly, allowing pupils to have their say and be given responsibility allows for a much better atmosphere in school rather than a `them and us' situation.

    I do think though that many schools just scratch the surface of this, e.g. school council is just a talking shop, pupils interview staff but have no real say in how the school is run, for a school community to see the full benefits of pupils voice and students leadership it needs to be embedded in the school's culture.

    As I alluded to earlier, this is really just common sense, and the consensus in most schools now is in favour of pupils voice. I'm sorry oldandrew but you're way behind on this one.

    Good choice for your MA project by the way.

  4. Thank you oldskool for your input, I really appreciate it. Thank you also for the useful link you posted.

    If you are willing, I would like to ask you a few more questions about this-

    When you say, pupil voice/leadership needs to be embedded in a school's culture, how would you suggest a school should go about this? What considerations need to be made? What risk factors are there if this is not done effectively and how might a school overcome them in your opinion? What, in your opinion, are the best methods for embedding student leadership into a school and how can we ensure that pupils are ready for the sense of responsibility.

    Other research I have done has suggested that the students who are already effective in their learning thrive when given leadership opportunities/any type of responsibility/ownership over their learning, however those who are disaffected remain so suggesting that those who are in need of these experiences the most are the hardest to engage. How would you suggest this could be overcome?

    In short, what are the main issues/risk factors that arise when introducing student leadership/voice into a school culture. How can these be overcome? You say that school's achieve better when they have a culture of pupil voice/leadership - would you go so far as to say that underachieving schools are underachieving because they do not give pupils enough opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning and have their say? Perhaps you could give examples of what you have done that has worked well.

    All opinions on this topic are gratefully received, many thanks

  5. The opinions on preferred types of lessons was done through surveys usually of several year groups, although it fits in pretty well with what students say in lessons as well.

    The main negative impact of specific "student voice" initiatives that I have seen is removing kids and teachers from lessons and ties them up in bureaucratic nonsense. (How many times a year do we have to hear about the toilets?) While I could not claim it causes bad behaviour, it certainly doesn't seem to be character forming in any way, and when I see some of the behaviour of students who have been involved with it then it makes the idea that it gives a sense of responsibility laughable.
    More importantly though, is that it plays into the idea that a school is there to socialise children rather than to educate them which has wrecked large parts of our school system. Our schools have lost their academic ethos and become "orphanages for children with parents".
  6. I've seen pupil voice and student leadership in two different schools. The first school had a prefect system which encouraged the older students to take responsbility for the younger students, they did duties, represented the school and were treated accordingly - swearing at a prefect taken just as seriously as swearing at a member of staff. They were chosen by staff and those nominated for head boy/girl had to have interviews and then selected by the head. The student council didn't have any say in staff appointments or anything like that, some of the older students led musical ensembles or helped with sports. The second school I taught in didn't have a prefect system - you noticed the lack of leadership from the older ones - they weren't bothered about the younger ones and didn't have any sense of responsbility. The school council had a high profile role in the school and were involved in staff appointments, and discussed all new initiatives that affected the pupils. Whilst I welcome pupil input and feel they ought to have some ownership of the school - I remember reading the Naughiest Girl in the School when I was little and thought it was fantastic ! The pupils are often consulted and have more of a say than the staff - this was especially apparent with the appointment of key staff including the head. The school council often found out about new initatives before staff - you found out reading the minutes - this lead to poor morale amongst staff.
    I personally would never allow or want pupils to observe and comment on my teaching through lesson observations- they are not professionals and this type of judgement need to be reserved for professionals only. I do ask for feedback from them on my teaching especi.ally the sixth form, but the questions are always focussed in a way to help me improve my teaching for the next time I teach the topic e.g. what tasks did they find most useful and what tasks did they enjoy, how did they know that they'd understood a topic. I tend to select the classes and pupils carefully otherwise I end up with meaningless comments - like let us chat more. Sometimes I do this by chatting to them, or I may add some questions into the end of unit evaulation
  7. I thought I'd comment on this remark.
    Why is it that bad ideas, no matter how tired, are always seen as new?
    Risinghill School had a school council in the early 60s.The only difference is that then poor leadership was seen as a weakness and the school was closed down as a scandalous example of ill-discipline and incompetence. Now poor leadership is institutionalised and every school in the country is meant to have a leadership group so weak it looks to the kids for direction. Why do I need to catch up with the 1960s? Shouldn't we actually be looking at ideas that haven't been failing for 40 years?
  8. You appear to be using the word "responsibility" where you actually mean "power".
    School councils don't have "responsibility". Nobody ever got expelled, indited or prosecuted for being a bad school councillor or misusing the powers of the school council.
    Like most teachers I'd be quite delighted to have less responsibilities as long as it didn't involve a cut in pay or a worsening of conditions.
  9. I am saying that students already have a voice. They are allowed to speak to those in authority. Any formal mechanism to give them more of a say, or even to give them power, is only going to undermine those who are meant to be in authority.
    I expect schools to be concerned with the interests of their students not their opinions.

  10. I would like to comment on the use of Student Voice in staff interviews. I have experienced this twice in the last couple of years. Firstly in my own school in an internal interview for a leadership post and more recently for a similar post elsewhere.

    I was rather amused to be interviewed by (Year 10) youngsters, most of whom I had taught over the past three years, and how seriously they took their role. I was not, however amused by their last question "Why do you think you would be better for this job than the other applicant?". Neither my colleague nor I answered that question. As this was an internal post I do not feel it was necessary to be interviewed by the students. Embarrassing for the person who did not get the job, but still had to teach them.

    My second encounter was in another school where I was applying for the post of HOD. I faced no less than 14 youngsters which was fairly daunting. The first question was "Would you wear fancy dress on Red Nose day or other charity events?" and the second "Can you tell jokes?". My heart sank. I thought I was applying for a leadership job, not as a comedienne!

    I think that it is a good idea for students to be involved in senior staff appointments (deputy heads etc) where the post is "whole school", but not for teaching posts. Surely the fact that we have to teach a lesson to unknown students using unfamilar resources is an indication of how a person relates to the students?

    As for observing my lessons! I think not. I am happy to get feedback, and make a point of talking to my students at the end of a unit to find out what went well and what could be better in order to improve both my teaching and their learning. But enough is enough. Give them responsibilities for improving the school issues that they feel strongly about, but please leave the teachers with some dignity and professionalism.
  11. This is a very old debate now, and one that has been covered in considerable
    length on a number of other threads. It seems to me that largely those
    that have observed or been involved in good student voice structures, (and by
    that I mean, fair, democratic, pro-active, positive, sustainable structures
    which impact positively on behaviour, teacher / pupil relations and
    attainment), tend to be pro-student voice and participation. Those that
    have only observed bad practices, which are tokenistic and dis-empowering for
    teachers tend to be against it.

    But I think two important points have been missed so far.

    1). Education is not just about teaching facts and figures, it is now,
    perhaps more than ever, about teaching skills and preparing young people for
    the world and their onward life. Involvement in the decision-making process, creating
    a sense of ownership and community, as well as how to deal with bureaucracy, formal
    structures and systems, meetings, decision making, democracy, negotiation,
    communication, can all be best ?taught? through experience and consequently really
    good whole school student participation structures.

    2). Young people are recipients of this service, and whether you like it or
    not have a legal right for their opinion to be heard and acted upon. Now this can either be done in a combative
    way with teachers and SLT, where the students are constantly at odds with
    staff, and their requests and ideas being for the most part casually dismissed
    and occasionally heard, (when from the ?right? student), leading to
    disillusionment and fractured relations.
    Alternatively you can put in place proper, effective and democratic structures
    to ensure that the young people can pro-actively make a positive impact on
    their environment and school improvement.
    Also, truly good participation structures, (which can take years to build up and become part of the school culture), will fulfil much of the Citizenship and PSHE curriculum and well as supporting the school to fulfil its ECM commitments and even its Healthy School Status. So in the long-run, as long as its done effectively, these structures are good for all.
  12. The question is, should children be democratically participating in a school's decision structure?

    The aim of a school according to some definitions is to control the children as closely as possible. What can be done to convince anybody who has such a definition of schooling?

  13. As little as 10 years ago most people didn't believe in or see the benefit
    of school councils and student participation. Students were still
    perceived as merely recipients of teaching. But we have come a long way
    and with the introduction of things like the citizenship agenda, extended
    schools and children's centres most now accept that schools are more like
    communities, which need to engage with all relevant members of that community.

    All the major teaching unions now support student participation and school
    councils, even the NASUWT, as well as OFSTED, HMIE, DENI, The Institute of
    Education, the Education Select Committee, the DCSF and the Dept of Health, and
    over 90% of schools now have some sort of school council, and although I would
    suggest that most of these are still not that effective, they are however showing
    a real commitment to them.

    This whole-sale adoption across the sector has not been made as a trendy fad
    or a whim; there is lots and lots of anecdotal evidence showing the huge benefits,
    as well as a growing body of academic research, both quantitative and

    If this doesn't convince people to at the
    very least re-assess their thinking and make an effort to become more fully
    informed of the potential benefits then I?m not sure anything will.

  14. DiogenesofSinope I agree with all you have said, the deprofessionalisation of teaching is just something I have a particular problem with.

    Matt - just because all your ideas are in line with current policy does not mean that it is the right way. I'm not particularly interested about what organisations think. The fact is that most schools are an extremely non democratic environment, whether they have school councils or not. Policies are enforced on staff from above and if educated teacher dare to philosophically question what is being done then they are labelled a trouble maker, when in fact they may have a well substantiated point. Having precious little democracy where staff are concerned and then championing the "rights" of kids to have their say is not a workable system.

    The fact is that in later life, kids will have to turn up to work at the time stated, they will have to put up with completing boring tasks, they will have to follow instructions that they are given, they will have to accept the new boss that is appointed without being involved in the interview process. To teach them otherwise and lead to a system where kids believe they can accurately evaluate lessons and decide how to behave accordingly is absolutely ludicrous. I'm sure there are examples where schools work well alongside an effective student council, but the evidence I have seen they are at their best ineffective and at their worst absolutely detrimental to staff morale.

  15. I could use a similar logical structure to say: "The fact is that, in later life, kids will have to grow up and die. Therefore we should teach them to be comfortable with that by putting them in a coma for a month to show them it is not so bad."

    The problem with both yours and my argument is that it is commonly held that you cannot easily derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. A moral fact is different to a natural fact about the world. If 50% of the students in a particular school will go on to be employed by McDonalds, does that mean we should forego English Literature for Chip Frying lessons?

    Before you continue to assume that school should reflect the working practices you outline above, please show that the point of education is to ready students for a life time of average office work, rather than any other possible outcome. One example would be: "to equip them for being information-sensitive actors in a participatory democracy while they individually try to improve their economic/intellectual/human prospects in any way they think best".
  16. The point of highlighting the long list of organisations that endorse student particpation was not to explicit current policy, but to show that there is a true value in it. All these organisations, although they obviously have varying agenda, are all working for an improvement to our education system. The focus is not to deprofessionalise teachers or undermine authority, or champion the rights of our young people, but to make improvements to the way in which we educate our children. (It's not a mad conspiracy, there is much well thought through and convincing evidence behind these initaitives).
    The argument that these policies are enforced from above and therefore have no real value always makes me laugh. The 'above' that you refer to are more often than not the most experienced educators, i.e head teachers and SLT. The unions that support these initiatives are by and large trying to represent the views of their members. I might also point out that it was the the questioning of existing philosophy of education that leads to these types of changes in the first place. We should always be questioning and evaluating what we do, trying to find better ways of doing it.

    I also don't believe that the rights and voice of young people should be at the cost of the rights and voice of the teachers, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact for student particpation to work really well there needs to be a whole school commitment from, and partnership between, all the parties involved.
    I just don't see why it is sooo controvertial, all this is trying to do is get young people to take responsibility over their environment and community and work together with the staff to improve all elements of their school, sometimes there will be a difference of opinion, but hey that's life, and so we are also providing valuable experince of negotiation and communication skills. I fully appreciate that if student participation is done badly that it will have a negative impact,
    but that is a flaw with the way it is implemented, not the philosophy

  17. Hilarious.
  18. You could indeed.
    This is why, outside of pure mathematics, it is not enough to look only at the logical structure of an argument. You also need to look at all of the implicit and explicit assumptions and qualifications and the accuracy of any empirical claims. This is the second thread I've now seen where you've popped up and tried to argue by saying "if you ignore the validity of all assumptions then this argument is like another sillier, argument". However, there is no reason on earth anybody should ignore the validity of all of the assumptions.
    The assumption that school is to prepare people for employment and the assumption that school is to prepare people for death are not equally valid, and therefore it is ridiculous to claim that arguments based on those assumptions are equally valid.
  19. An insightful retort!
    Does this one word response suggest that you don't think that the teaching unions, Ofsted, QCA, the Education Select Committee, etc, are trying to work towards a improved education system.

    Just because you don't agree with current research and thinking doesn't mean that they have some
    Machiavellian motive.
  20. The point of stretching the original argument to an absurd conclusion is precisely to highlight the assumptions that were made originally. That the aim of schooling is to "prepare people for employment" is evidently questionable, and I wanted to bring it into question.

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