Many teachers and schools will use phrases such as ‘pupil voice,’ ‘student participation’, and ‘child participation’ to describe learning activities and approaches to learning within their school. So what does it really mean to get primary pupils ‘participating’? And how can this approach to learning support pupils to engage with the wider world?
Participation Works describes participation in schools as giving children a say in their education, listening to them as much as possible, valuing their opinions and ideas, and allowing them to control their learning. For a lot of schools, this is often taken in to account through establishing a School Council, Eco- committee or similar type of student committee.
Tokenistic or meaningful?
Roger Hart’s ‘Ladder of participation’ (PDF) is a tool that could help primary teachers to reflect on the level of participation that their pupils have in a group such as a school council. Do teachers think it is possible for pupils and adults to completely share decision making in a primary school? Do you know of any primary school examples where students have led something with little input from an adult? How can we avoid tokenistic pupil participation in primary schools?
Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (PDF) says that when adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account. This gives schools the opportunity not only to make sure that pupils have a voice in their own school community, but to teach pupils about children’s rights across the world. Is Article 12 being upheld in your own school community? Is it being upheld in other countries across the world? Teachers may want to use Save the Children’s Respect – exploring children’s rights in the UK and around the world or the Children’s rights – Voice to explore this further.
School linking – letting pupils take the lead
School linking projects are a popular global learning activity for many schools. Plan UK’s school linking programme supported UK schools and their partner schools to set up pupil committees to lead the link. The resource Promoting student participation in school linking projects is a useful tool for schools to use. It has lots of student friendly resources to support a committee to develop a successful international partnership. These resources could also be useful for school councils.
In the classroom – simulation games
As teachers encourage pupils to share their opinions and ideas in the classroom and give them greater opportunities to take the lead, this provides an ideal space to promote creative and critical thinking about global challenges. There are several ‘simulation games’ that help pupils to learn about global topics using participatory activities. For example, the Christian Aid ‘Chocolate trade game’ and ‘Paper bag game’ and the RISC ‘Growing bananas’ game. These are the sort of games that teachers could encourage Year 6 pupils to lead with younger pupils in the school.
School Councils – an opportunity to take action
School Councils are an excellent platform for pupils to be optimistic and ‘take action’ for a better world. These are core values of global learning. As pupils respond to the media and learn about current global challenges such as climate change or poverty in lessons, some of them will be motivated to act. The School Council gives pupils an ideal platform to do this. The Council can make informed decisions about what action they would like to take (e.g., recycling, fundraising, saving water, campaigning, anti-bullying initiative). Save the Children’s resource The School Council – a children’s guide is a good starting point for primary teachers.
Tell us what you think:
Can primary teachers encourage pupil voice to be part of all primary school decisions?What’s your best example of pupil participation in a primary school? Tell us in the comments box below.
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