Classroom Practice – When student voice is worth shouting about

Posted on Dec 2, 2013 in Learn to lead
A great title, but this article in the TES last week opened with a provocative and downright disrespectful statement!

“Undoubtedly, 14-year-olds can sometimes be insightful. But more often they are likely to be banal, arbitrary and shallow – and ill-equipped to evaluate pedagogic expertise.”   Claire Fox, director and founder of the British think-tank the Institute of Ideas

The journalist, John Severs, continues:

“Despite student voice’s growth in popularity over the past 20 years, Fox is not alone in her views. Teachers, some believe, have gone through extensive training to gain the expertise to be able to teach a class, whereas students have no pedagogical knowledge and no idea what is best for them.”

Thankfully Severs gave opportunity for a response from us.  “Not so!  Teachers report back that, far from undermining them, it provides opportunity for relationships to develop, mutual respect to grow and learning to flourish “ – says Susan Piers-Mantell, who runs the student voice organisation (UGHH! Jon please don’t call us this!) Learn to lead.

A couple of things struck me:

  1. One was the polarisation of points of view, with a big gap in the middle left unexpressed about how teachers work in collaboration with young people.  We are not abnegating our teaching skills but increasing them. It was a relief to read in the concluding paragraph part of a speech by Robin Alexander, chair of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust:
  2. “(The priority) is to abandon the tokenism that too often attaches to the idea of children’s voice, and celebrate children’s voice and rights in school and classroom in accordance with the (United Nations) Convention of the Rights of the Child. Children ‘have a right to be involved in decisions about their own learning’, so children’s voice is as much about pedagogy as school councils.”

  3. Another was the term ‘student voice’ which we question and I doubt was coined by a young person.  It falls far too short. The term makes it easy to tick the ‘consultation’ box and say “We ‘do’ student voice”, and then behind closed doors make different decisions.

The reality is that the current top-down model of education will continue to create dependency and cynicism in our young people, leading then to rejection and anger. And then in adulthood, because no other model has been given, the exact model of ‘being done to’ will be replicated all over again for their children and schools … and so the pattern repeats.

Learn to lead is not about abnegating our responsibilities as teachers, but learning new approaches to support and facilitate the development of young adults to become confident, engaged, compassionate, inquisitive, and with a ‘can do’ approach to life. These will be the people who have the skills and ability to improve communities, grow the national economy and lead happy lives themselves. And this will be because their teachers have made space in schools for them to ‘not just have a say’ but get actively involved in making their school life something they are intrinsically sharing, not just receiving.

Susan Piers-Mantell