The challenges of student voice in primary schools: Students ‘having a voice’ and ‘speaking for’ others

By Eve Mayes , Rachel Finneran and Rosalyn Black
Deakin University, Australia

From Australian Journal of Education

“Student participation in school decision-making and reform processes has taken inspiration from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and reconceptualizations of childhood, with advocates arguing for the repositioning of children and young people in relation to adults in schools (Fielding, 2011). This move has been termed ‘student voice’ – the inclusion, influence and active participation of young people in decisions about matters affecting them at school.

This article analyses data from a multi-sited case study of three primary schools and the accounts of students, teachers and school leaders of their student voice practices, to address the following research question: What are the challenges of enacting ‘student voice’ practices in primary school contexts? All three schools discussed in the article have developed strong student voice initiatives, and were part of a broader evaluation that explores the experience and perspectives of students, teachers and school leaders within these initiatives.

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We anticipate interest in our argument that young people’s access to voice and influence is more complex than the call to just ‘give’ students ‘a voice’; that schools celebrate some young voices while silencing others – and that young people themselves may ‘speak for’ other young people. We suggest that more work is needed to challenge the boundaries that schools (and, sometimes, students themselves) place on student voice. Turing towards a stance of listening and reciprocity may enable the deepening of connections and mutual learning in radically democratic schools.”


Article details

The challenges of student voice in primary schools: Students ‘having a voice’

and ‘speaking for’ others

Eve Mayes, Rachel Finneran, Rosalyn Black

First Published 3 Aug 2019

DOI: 10.1177/0004944119859445

Australian Journal of Education