26 SES 09 B, Using Standards For School Improvement, Translating Legal Standards And Acknolwedging Student Voice To Develop Schools
This research (2018) considered the relationship between student voice and the leadership of school improvement. Using mixed methods, the views of a number of students, teachers and school leaders were harnessed to explore the potential for student voice to aid the facilitation of school improvement. The research was conducted in Norway, and is timely in the light of upcoming changes in the Norwegian Act of Education (2020) which signify a refocusing on children’s rights, as specified in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (1990) and incorporated into Norwegian law in 2003.
The research questions at the centre of this study were:
- What are the perceptions of student voice in the schools?
- To what extent has student voice been used as a driver for improvement in the schools?
- How is student voice perceived as a driver for improvement in the schools?
School leaders have a mandate to lead school improvement, but they must also ensure that the right of children to be heard is upheld, and that children are able to influence and participate in decision making about their own education. This research considered the potential for the responses to these requirements to be combined, so that school leaders can facilitate a contextually relevant and inclusive school improvement process through the active involvement of students.
Norway is working to improve the effectiveness of its schools in terms of academic outputs and outcomes but of even greater importance is the demand placed on Norwegian schools to provide environments in which every child is valued. Thuen (2017:236) describes the situation as ‘teachers’ authority versus students' freedom’. This research addresses the ‘versus’ and suggests ‘and’ as an alternative. It considered whether school leaders and teachers can work together with children to achieve the necessary results and at the same time ensure schools provide experiences of democracy.
Although student voice as a concept has been heavily criticised in recent years, the literature is in broad agreement that students should be consulted and included. Woods and Macfarlane (2017: 85) argue ‘in great schools, student voice is strong throughout the school, through…student leadership teams…but also through day-to-day opportunities in every classroom’. Hargreaves and Shirley (2009:82) propose students as ‘partners of change’ and Rodgers (2006:230) suggests that ‘a partnership means that teachers and students are working towards a shared goal: students’ learning’. Fielding (2001:104) describes these interactions as a ‘radical collegiality’, suggesting that students and teachers can ‘make meaning together’ (ibid:106).
There is little doubt that school improvement is widely debated; on an academic level, by policy-makers, by education professionals, by the media and by parents and students. Nevertheless, or perhaps consequently, school improvement is difficult to define, as Busher (2006: 149) suggests ‘there is no absolute definition of what constitutes ‘better’. In recent years, research has suggested that by including teachers in school improvement work it is more possible to bring about lasting and locally relevant positive change. Wildy and Clarke (2011:146) emphasise that ‘improving students’ learning is a collaborative act that begins with teachers’. These assertions underpin the Professional Learning Community movement; that teachers working and learning together are better able to create improved schools. Taking this further, this research can be situated in the context of schools as learning organisations; in particular the existence of democratic, inclusive and transparent cultures in schools (Dons, 2010:88).
The research prioritised the gathering of qualitative data in three contexts through focus groups and interviews to enable considerations and comparisons of perceptions in individual schools. The research included quantitative data collection in the form of an initial student questionnaire to gain a broader perspective on student voice and therefore to some degree, the research design can be described as sequential explanatory (Robson and McCartan, 2016:178). In School A the responses in the questionnaire were discussed in the focus groups. In Schools B and C themes from the questionnaire were raised in focus groups and interviews. This research collected a wide range of opinions from various groups within the schools to map current perceptions of student voice as a driver for school improvement. Creating the opportunity to ask questions and further explore these opinions through dialogue was essential. Both breadth and depth were important to investigate the complexity of the research questions. A combined approach (mixed methods) enabled the examination of research questions from several angles and thus improved the rigour of the research. Pring (2000:45) explains how a mixed methods approach is best suited to addressing the intricacies of multiplicity: ‘the world of real life cannot be captured by either the one or the other [qualitative or quantitative] and indeed there must be an integration and overlapping of the two’. This is supported by Glaser and Strauss (1967:18): ‘in many instances both forms of data are necessary – not quantitative to test qualitative, but both used as supplements, as mutual verification’. Although accuracy may be a somewhat incompatible ideal in a study designed to collect perspectives, in this case a mixed methods and comparative approach moves the study from ‘snapshots’ of individual opinions to enable a deeper analysis. The inclusion of children in this research was vital. Lumby (2012: 237) suggests that they are often left out of research on leadership in schools, due to notions that they are immature, not competent to judge, overly suggestible as well as the ethical challenges of consent. In this process which is designed to map perceptions of student voice it would have been unreasonable to leave out the voices of children. A significant part of the schools’ communities would have gone unheard.
The findings revealed some recognition of the centrality of student voice in the enactment of democracy in schools: participants had positive perceptions of student voice and school leaders were willing to incorporate student voice in school improvement processes. Uses of student voice were largely restricted to the student council, and consequently had little impact on school improvement on a whole school level, being often confined to practical matters. Importantly, it became evident that students and adults have different and sometimes conflicting experiences in schools. Problematic for school leaders and schools as communities were the barriers to the active inclusion of students. For teachers, time and competence were significant. For students, their biggest concern was the power relationship between them and the adults. For school leaders, these all become their problems. This research draws two main conclusions. The first is as schools in Norway are compelled to listen to children, teachers' competence in this area needs development. The second is that student voice could be an essential tool for school leaders to understand the culture of their school and thus better facilitate school improvement. A first step for school leaders could be is to consider how different groups within the school communicate and how to facilitate better communication as paving the way to greater understanding as Busher (2006:148) suggests that ‘bringing about change successfully…requires participants to understand the cultures of communities in which they are trying to enact change’. This research is now forming part of a wider comparative study of student voice and school improvement in Norway and England.
Busher, H. (2006). Understanding Educational Leadership. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Dons, C. (2010). Styringsstruktur, ledelse og demokratisk dannelse i skolen. In R.Andreassen, E.Irgens, E.Skaalvik. (eds). Kompetent Skoleledelse. Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk Forlag, pp. 79-90. Fielding, M. (2001). Beyond the Rhetoric of Student Voice: New Departures or New Constraints in Twenty-First Century Schooling?. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/245584644 [last accessed 29/01/19]. Glaser, B. and Strauss, A., (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 24(25), pp.288-304. Hargreaves, A. and Shirley, D. (2009). The Fourth Way. California: Corwin. Hodgkin, R. (1998). Partnership with pupils. Children UK (Summer) Lumby, J. (2012). Learner Voice in educational leadership research. In A. Briggs, M. Coleman and M. Morrison. Research Methods in Educational Research and Management. London: SAGE, pp. 236-248. Pring, R. (2000). Philosophy of Educational Research. London: Continuum. Robson, C. and McCartan. (2016). Real World Research. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. Rodgers, C. (2006). Attending to Student Voice: The Impact of Descriptive Feedback on Teaching and Learning. Curriculum Inquiry, 36(2), pp. 209-237. Thuen, H. (2017). Den Norske Skolen. Oslo: Abstrakt Forlag. United Nations. (1990), Convention on the Rights of the Child. [online]. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx [last accessed 29/01/19]. Utdanningsdirektoratet. (2018), Overordnet del av læreplan. [online]. Available at: https://www.udir.no/laring-og-trivsel/lareplanverket/overordnet-del/ [last accessed 29/01/19] Wildy, H. and Clarke. S. (2011). Instructional Leadership: Teacher Level. In J. Robertson and H. Timperley, (eds). Leadership and Learning. London: SAGE, pp. 103-117. Woods, D. And Macfarlane, R. (2017). What makes a great school in the twenty-first century?. In P. Earley and T. Greany, (eds). School Leadership and Education System Reform. London: Bloomsbury, pp.79-89
Search the ECER Programme
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.