FORUM - ISSN 0963-8253
Volume 43 Number 2 (2001)
Michael Fielding, pages 49-50
This Special Issue looks at new developments within an area of practice that FORUM, with its rich history of advocacy for genuinely comprehensive public education, has always been supportive of, namely 'Student Voice'.
In the past, we have tended to approach student voice from either the standpoint of young people being given greater responsibility for their own learning through a more imaginative and flexible pedagogy, or we have concentrated on ways in which institutional forms of student engagement, such as school councils, could develop a more authentic collective voice that would lead, if not to a more democratic, then at least to more engaged forms of institutional and personal learning. Those concerns and aspirations remain. What is particularly interesting here is the fact that some of the new developments presented by a range of contributors seem to provide a bridge between the individual/pedagogic and the collective/school council practices that have so often provided the two poles of past student voice work.
Now, at least within many of the examples explored and celebrated within this Special Issue, there is a sense in which not only the previously forbidden area of teaching and learning is becoming a legitimate focus of enquiry from the standpoint of students as well as teachers, but also that the roles of teachers and students are beginning to become less exclusive and excluding of each other. Similarly, there is an emerging interconnectedness between and expansion of the arenas of classroom life, the wider contexts of the school as a whole, and community spaces and practices that exist outside the school. The reciprocity between student and teacher, school and community that have always been at the heart of a widely and richly conceived notion of education seems to be expressing itself in new ways and new forms that may hold out much hope for the future
We open our Student Voice Special Issue with three articles by young people who have been involved in some of the creative and vibrant developments alluded to above. Pupils at Wheatcroft Primary School in Hertford give a hugely uplifting and inspiring account of Working as a Team; Beth Crane's advocacy of the 'Students as Researchers' initiative as means of Revolutionising School-based Research and her fellow ex-Sharnbrook Upper School student, Chris Harding's, insistence that 'Students as Researchers' is as important as the National Curriculum lay appropriately challenging and exciting foundations for the rest of the Special Issue.
Louise Raymond's overview of the groundbreaking 'Students as Researchers' initiative in her Student Involvement in School Improvement: From Data Source to Significant Voice, provides a fascinating case study of how a small but radical student-led initiative can grow into something that has the potential to transform the nature of curriculum renewal and organisational learning. Leora Cruddas's account of working with young women with emotional and behavioural difficulties reminds us of the capacity of young people to work in ways which exceed inappropriately narrow expectations of teachers and fellow students. Her Rehearsing for Reality: Young Women's Voices & Agendas for Change also reminds us of the culpability of schools as-they-too-often-are in denying the creativity and responsibility that young people have within them to develop together with each other and their teachers.
Kate Bullock and Felicity Wikelely's Personal Learning Planning: Strategies for Pupil Learning again points to the possibility of pupil agency, but reminds us how far we have yet to go to listen and learn together in ways which are mutually fulfilling for those involved. Sara Bragg's Taking a Joke: Learning from Voices We Don't Want to Hear is at once disturbing and inspiring. It provides a challenge, later taken up by Elena Sylva in this Special Issue, that centres round the difficult problem of what our most appropriate response is to voices we find initially offensive or in other ways unacceptable to our current way of doing things. Other challenges to a too easy advocacy of student voice are taken up in Perpetua Kirby's Participatory Research in Schools. Her comprehensive overview of both the issues and the opportunities of working with young people in research is an important corrective to the quick recourse to questionnaires and other surface means of engagement that are so often predominantly adult and accountability driven.
In their Supporting Teachers in Consulting Pupils about Aspects of Teaching and Learning and Evaluating Impact John MacBeath, Kate Myers and Helen Demetriou offer us a number of very interesting examples of emerging practices that move steadily and thoughtfully beyond our traditional ways of working. However, as Isobel Urquhart's 'Walking on Air'? Pupil Voice & School Choice reminds us, we also have to face up the very uneven realities of very uneven progress. The disappointments and duplicity of an always unreal 'choice' for working class students in a market-driven system of education is an absolute outrage: and yet many seem to remain resilient, despite the manifest betrayal they suffer.
How interesting that we can look to Chile for leadership in citizenship education. Marcia Prieto's Students as Agents of Democratic Renewal in Chile is an inspiring account of innovative practice between the university sector and schools that holds many lessons for us all, not least of which is the increasing capacity of mutual learning between adults and students, thus blurring traditional role boundaries and pointing us towards the possibility of a more 'radical collegiality' for the 21st century. The two contributions from North America also have much to teach us, largely through their patient and fearless engagement with issues that have too often been glossed over in the understandable desire to promote student voice. Dana Mitra's Opening the Floodgates: giving students a voice in school reform is, perhaps, the more reassuring of the two, alluding in a number of places to very positive developments that hold out the possibility of mutual learning. Elena Sylva's 'Squeaky Wheels and Flat Tires': a case study of students as reform participants makes distinctly uncomfortable reading. And yet in that discomfort there lie the seeds of student voice as a driving force for change. What she urges us to face is the multiplicity of student voices that speak to us and the undeniable fact that so often only some of those voices get heard, usually those of articulate, middle class, white girls.
If we can grapple honestly with issues bearing on the multiplicity of student (and, indeed, teacher) voices then the student voice movement will really have come of age. My own Beyond the Rhetoric of Student Voice: new departures or new constraints in the transformation of 21st century schooling? draws on all the contributors to this Special Issue and on a wide range of published research and work-in-progress. It develops a framework for evaluating the conditions of student voice and through that framework attempts an appraisal of student voice as a force for genuine, positive change in our currently over-determined, largely anachronistic forms of schooling.
The messages, it seems to me, are ambivalent: I do make my own assessment of the way things are likely to go, but with trepidation and a real sense that even tentative forecasts are of little use in themselves: those we agree with we tend to forget about; those we dispute we tend to dismiss. Two things are important: firstly, that we listen to, hear and learn from each other, since it is through dialogue that meaning is made; secondly, we must act together and alone in ways which demonstrate courage, humility and an undeviating sense of hope. Contact the authors of the articles, contact each other. Come to Sussex University in the summer of 2002 and carry on the dialogue: I feel an international student voice conference for students, teachers and researchers coming on.
To cite this article
Michael Fielding (2001) Editorial, FORUM, 43(2), 49-50