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Student voice

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Student voice is a neologism describing the distinct perspectives and actions of young people throughout education focused on education.


Student voice is the individual and collective perspective and actions of young people within the context of learning and education.[1] Student voice work is premised on the following convictions: that young people have unique perspectives on learning, teaching, and schooling; that their insights warrant not only the attention but also the responses of adults; and that they should be afforded opportunities to actively shape their education.[2] Several typologies differentiate the practices that identify as student voice. [3][4][5]

Student voice is increasingly identified as a pillar of successful school reform, as educational researchers, academic institutions, and educational support organizations around world increasingly advocate for the inclusion of students in the reform process. Student voice is seen as a precursor to student engagement, identified as "the active, distinct, and concentrated way" students participate in schools[6]. Student voice is related to youth voice.


Administrative approaches

The presence and engagement of student voice has been seen as essential to the educational process since at least the time of John Dewey, if not long before. In 1916 Dewey wrote extensively about the necessity of engaging student experience and perspectives in the curriculum of schools, summarizing his support by saying,:

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.[7]

Today student voice is seeing a resurgence of importance as a growing body of literature[8] increasingly identifies student voice as necessary throughout the educational process[9]. Areas where advocates encourage actively acknowledging student voice include curriculum design and instructional methods, Educational leadership and general school reform activities, including research and evaluation[10].

Curricular approaches

Specific types of activities[11] which engage student voice include:

  • Learning by teaching
  • Participatory action research
  • Students as education decision-makers
  • Students as school planners
  • Students as classroom teachers
  • Students as learning evaluators
  • Students as education advocates
  • Students as advisors to principals or superintendents

Service learning

Engaging student voice is a primary objective of service learning, which commonly seeks to entwine classroom learning objectives with community service opportunities. Student voice is also present in student government programs, experiential education activities, and other forms of student-centered learning. The following examples are generally from the policy-making.

Main article: Service learning

Student as education decision-makers

Engaging students as education decision-makers is the practice of actively teaching young people responsibility for their education by systematically engaging them in making choices about learning, schooling, and the education system in areas ranging from what affects them personally to what affects an entire student body to what affects the entire school system.

Choosing curricula, calendar year planning, school building design, teacher hiring, and many more issues are often seen as the duties of a school principal or teachers. Today those roles are increasingly seen as avenues for student voice. Students are joining boards of education at all levels, including local, district, and state boards. Some education agencies engage students as staff in programs where they make decisions about grant making, school assessment, and other areas[12]. Students are also participate in decision-making by establishing and enforcing codes of conduct and in personal education decision-making, such as choosing classes and deciding whether or not to attend school.



Legislation Education reform has long been the domain of parents, teachers, school administrators and politicians. In some nations, however, there is a trend beginning to encompass a much larger element of student participation in scholastic affairs. A student voice on district school boards was mandated in 1998. As part of changes made to the Ontario Education Act, legislation mandates that students of each one of the 72 provincial school boards are represented by a 'pupil representative', commonly called Student Trustee. He/she is to represent the needs and concerns of students in discussions with the school board administration and the province. Ontario's Student Voice will be strengthened, pending passage of Bill 78.

Ontario Student Trustees' Association - l'Association des élèves conseillers et conseillères de l'Ontario OSTA-AECO has become Ontario's chief student stakeholder dedicated to representing the 1.9 million students in Ontario’s public education system. OSTA-AECO, through its General Assembly of student trustees, represents elementary and secondary students from the four sectors of publicly funded education (English Catholic, English Public, French Catholic, French Public). It provides professional development to its members and advocates for students' educational interests.

The Society for Democratic Education An emerging organization in Toronto that includes many aspects of heightened student inclusion in education reform policy is The Society for Democratic Education.Founded in early 2005 by Bianca Wylie, The Society has published several essays and position papers that discuss the importance of wide-scale education reform, especially in how it applies to secondary level education and civic education.

Other Proponents of Student Voice in Canada A prominent and established voice for students, albeit for post-secondary issues, is the Canadian Federation of Students. Other Toronto-based groups made up of student-aged members include The Toronto Youth Cabinet and Canada 25, though these organizations also focus on broader policy both within the city and the nation.


A startlingly powerful example of student voice in action comes from the 2006 student protests in Chile. Throughout the spring of that year, public high school students from across the country began a series of protests, school takeovers, and negotiations designed to bolster support for public education improvement. After seeing the massive effect of the students, government officials met their demands and are working to support ongoing reforms as necessitated by students.

United Kingdom

English Secondary Student's Association ESSA is working to become the representative body for secondary students in England. It aims to support students in expressing their views about education by providing workshops and a network of support with other secondary school students.

Campaign for State Education CASE believes that all individuals are entitled to high quality and properly resourced education, fostering life long enjoyment of learning and enabling them to live free and fulfilling lives in a diverse, multicultural society. This is best achieved through democratic and locally accountable partnerships working in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation.

Confederation of Education and Children's Services Manager The prime purpose of ConfEd is to contribute to raising and maintaining high standards in education and children's services. We seek to influence and initiate national developments in education and children's services, and in the profession through regular contact and close working with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and other national bodies, including Ofsted, the Audit Commission, the TTA, and GTC.

Ireland's Union of Secondary Students The Union of Secondary Students is the umbrella body of all second level students in Ireland.

National College for School Leadership NCSL provides career-long learning and development opportunities, professional and practical support for England's existing and aspiring school leaders. Our goal is to ensure that school leaders have the skills, recognition, capacity and ambition to transform the school education system into the best in the world.

National Union of Students NUS is a voluntary membership organisation comprising a confederation of local student representative organisations in universities and colleges throughout the United Kingdom which have chosen to affiliate and which pay a membership fee.

Phoenix Education Trust Phoenix is the organisation that helped to found ESSA and currently provides the students with administrative support. It aims to explore and support education in which children are trusted and respected and their participation in decision-making is encouraged.

School Councils UK School Councils UK has been helping schools to develop into caring communities, working with teachers and pupils in primary, secondary and special schools for more than ten years. School Councils UK, which is supported by the DfES and accredited as a TA Headlamp Trainer, also works in partnership with local education authorities.

The Organising Bureau of European School Students Unions OBESSU is the umbrella organisation for secondary school student organisations in European.

A range of state school are also pushing student Voice internally and independently across the UK. Schools like Quintin Kynaston School are now recognised for having one of the largest and most active Student Voice 'faculties' in the country.

United States

SoundOut Soundout is the only nonprofit education program in the US solely focused on engaging student voice throughout education. SoundOut works with students, educators, administrators, policy-makers, and academics to raise the profile, substance, and effect of student voice in K-12 settings across the country.

The National Youth Rights Association NYRA advocates for increased recognition for student rights in schools, including the right to privacy, student access to records, and student representation throughout the education system.

What Kids Can Do WKCD shares stories of student voice throughout the educational process, both within the school system and throughout the community. Their highlights emphasis exceptional learning, belonging, and engagement of students in a variety of capacities for a variety of purposes, the greatest of which is in order to promote student voice. WKCD has authored several books about student voice, primarily written by Kathleen Cushman working with high school students, including Fires in the Bathroom: Advice from high schools students for teachers and Sent to the Principal's Office.


Critical educators including bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Henry Giroux have voiced concern with the singular notion of a student voice. Another expert has written about this over-simplification, saying that:

It is not enough to simply listen to student voice. Educators have an ethical imperative to do something with students, and that is why meaningful student involvement is vital to school improvement.[13]

See also

  • Youth voice
  • Teaching for social justice
  • Student-centered learning
  • Student activism
  • Collaborative learning
  • Community High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • The Nova Project (Seattle, Washington)
  • Summerhill School (UK)
  • Kirkdale School (UK)
  • Sudbury-style schools (US)
  • Coalition of Essential Schools
  • Democratic school
  • Service learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Free school
  • Unschool
  • Educational progressivism
  • Personal learning environments
  • Inquiry education
  • Learning by teaching
  • Jane Addams School for Democracy
  • Goddard College
  • The Evergreen State College
  • Minimally Invasive Education
  • Youth-adult partnerships
  • Intergenerational equity


  1. ^ SoundOut. Student Voice Tip Sheet. Accessed 12/18/06.
  2. ^ Cook-Sather, A. (2006). Sound, Presence, and Power: Exploring ‘Student Voice’ in Educational Research and Reform. Curriculum Inquiry 36, 4 (Winter), 359-390
  3. ^ Fielding, M. (2004). “New wave” student voice and the renewal of civic society. London Review of Education 2, 3 (November), 197-217
  4. ^ Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: Problematising student participation in school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6, 2 (June), 125-146.
  5. ^ Thiessen, D. (1997). Knowing about, acting on behalf of, and working with primary pupils’ perspectives: Three levels of engagement with research. In A. Pollard, D. Thiessen & A. Filer (Eds.), Children and their curriculum (pp. 184–196). London, Falmer Press.
  6. ^ Newmann, F. (1993) Student Engagement in American Schools.
  7. ^ Democracy and Education. John Dewey, 1916
  8. ^ SoundOut Student Voice Library
  9. ^ Alison Cook-Sather, Authorizing Student Perspectives: Towards Trust, Dialogue, and Respect in Education (2002)
  10. ^ Student Voice Links from the SoundOut website
  11. ^ Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change Adam Fletcher, 2005.
  12. ^ (n.d.) Youth Leadership & Service Team Washington State Office of Supertintendent of Public Instruction
  13. ^ Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide Adam Fletcher, 2003.
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