Saturday, 23 June 2012

Student Voice

An ex-student of mine is part of an organisation known as Student Voice UK. As I write this they are representing themselves at the Time Education Festival and will be running a workshop.

The ex-student went to a talk by Claire Fox who was pretty patronising about students and pretty negative in her opinions about student voice.

This got me thinking. I am nervous about student voice in some respect. I think that it is because I worry that a personality clash between myself and a student may end up in reflecting very negatively on me. I really don't like the idea of things like ratemyteacher, where an anonymous student can make an opinion on me for the whole world to see.

However, the opinion of the students in my classroom is important to me. I do ask them what support they need and try (sometimes not successfully) to support a student in the way they want. I know better than them, I have more experience than them, but I am willing to learn from them. They see more lesson than I do. Most importantly an unhappy class group is not going to be easy to teach.

I also support student leadership in schools. I think that it is useful to have students who want to aim to be prefects (or prefect equivalents) and represent what is best about their school. Do we expect them to do that role without contributing back into the running of the school and having an opinion?

What I don't like is contrived student councils. Groups of students discussing toilets. Having to think of something during tutor time that the rep can bring up. Always these topics having to be negative. Often the representative from the tutor group being coerced by the tutor.

And I definitely don't like student observers. I think it is totally unfair. I do not think that the joint adult observer should be able to use the opinion of the student against you. I have 25-30 observers in my room already, ask them for an opinion if you need one.

Learning should not only be about the adult knowing it all and the student being bored, but putting up with it as the teacher imparts knowledge . I believe that learning is a partnership between students and teachers and supporting student in understanding their education and asking them about their experience is an important thing. Don't get me wrong I don't think that students should have it all (or even mostly) their own way, but they can't be ignored either.

In my opinion system we have is not ready to deliver effective student voice, that is not intimidating to individual teachers, and as a starting point we need more than a tick box student council approach.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:South West, UK


  1. I too am uneasy about the student voice concept but I was known as a teacher who would listen to you so perhaps that is my own version. Your comment about toilets made me smile - the first thing our student council did was to paint the girls loos and make them nice. It actually worked - they put up posters, had handcream etc and amazingly looked after them. Not sure it would work everywhere but it was important to them at that time. I gave up a Saturday to go and help out - a really great day.

  2. Excellent point about having 30 student observers. I think there can be value in having a student who isn't a part of the lesson as an observer. This obviously needs to be with the permission of the teacher and class and the terms of reference negotiated between them. A lot of the value of this is negated by having a member of staff with the student. It then becomes part of a professional judgement rather than the additional point of information/perspective it should be for the teacher. Classes with an additional member of staff in, even if just an observer, act differently. A student observer doesn't have as great an effect.

  3. Genuine student voice has to be well managed, clearly acknowledging and listening to all parties involved. I value a teacher who runs their class room with an open and respectful approach taking into account what works for the students so that all parties involved have a better lesson. A teacher like this is worth a million token school councils.

    There's nothing wrong with a school council addressing issues about the school loos if that's what's important to them, and if that will really make a difference to their lives. I don't doubt that sometimes this may be the case. The problem arises when the toilets are the only thing the council are given discursive and decisive rights over and students never get to say what they think about things which actually matter to them.

    Student voice should be about achieveing real improvement and making genuine progress to benefit the school community as a whole. It's not about complaining, it's not about rating, it's about constructive feedback and positive change.

    That's why at StudentVoice we aim to train and support young people in confidence, communication and campaigning skills so they can go about expressing themselves in the responsible, respectful and valueable way which they are capable of.