Laura Burton, Senior Education Lead at SSAT and Head of the Primary Network, explores what meaningful pupil voice is and the importance of clear leadership when developing systems and approaches in a primary school to maximise the impact on the development of the whole child.
Article 12 in The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that, ‘Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously’ (UNICEF 1992). For primary practitioners, this right is often central to their moral purpose and they seek to ensure that every child can have a voice, is listened to, and be truly heard. Within primary settings, there are a range of ways pupils’ views, feelings and wishes are obtained as well as ways children can be encouraged to be active citizens in their communities. These all tend to fall under a general title of ‘pupil voice’. But what does this actually mean and why is it important to get it right?
In the second publication in the Personalising Learning series in 2004 (SSAT members can download a copy from the Exchange), David Hargreaves points out that in its widest sense, pupil voice ‘would include every way in which students are allowed or encouraged to voice their views or preferences’. So therefore, there will be many informal opportunities for this within a school day and every teacher will be facilitators of pupil voice on a daily basis. However, alongside these opportunities, we should consider how pupil voice enables children to ‘play a more active role in their education and schooling’ (Hargreaves, 2004) and ensure planned activities, systems and pupil voice groups are based on this understanding. Pupil voice is not simply having a school council, it is more about ‘forming more open and trustful relationships between staff and students’ (Hargreaves, 2004) to develop systems that ‘values personal knowledge and… promotes student ownership’ (Nystrand M et al, 1997).
When schools ensure pupil voice is meaningful, valued and embedded in school systems and within the school vision, the impact on learners, classes and the school can be transformational. There are many considerations when developing pupil voice across the school, including ways of working, range of different structures and opportunities as well as practical considerations. However, strong Pupil Voice Leadership must be established first. The role of pupil voice leads can be difficult as it requires balancing planning and resourcing alongside classroom or pastoral responsibilities. Without a clear vision, along with secure knowledge and understanding of what effective pupil leadership is, there is a danger of pupil leadership becoming tokenistic, focusing on superficial ways to involve children in school life. Strong leadership will ensure that the pupil voice systems within a school will make a positive and powerful impact on the personal, social, emotional and academic outcomes for all pupils.
The SSAT Pupil Leadership Audit is available for SSAT members to download and has been designed to provide you with opportunity to consider your current strengths in pupil voice leadership and what your next steps could be.
Join SSAT at one of our pupil leadership events where you will hear practical tips and build a personalised action plan to help ensure that pupil voice and pupil leadership is both meaningful and effective in school.