25 SES 10 A, Children's right to participation - School
In and beyond Europe, the role and shape of civil society is becoming uncertain, thus it is important to consider how young people begin their participation in public decision-making This is in order to better understand how they, not only adapt to, but play a role in reshaping the terms of democratic engagement (Ball 2013). Some reports indicate that young people are more discerning and resilient in this post-truth era (Buchannan 2016) than older generations. However, this should not be accepted uncritically (Thomas 2011), for the complex dynamics of post-truth society increase the onus on educators to embed within education not only media literacy, but also the capacity to effectively engage in the deliberative processes (Escobar 2011, Mackenzie & Bhatt 2020). The wider political landscape has given rise to increased scrutiny of deliberative processes and young people’s engagement within them. We can consider here, for example, the need for intergenerational dialogues to ground emotive social media content in more robust forums of deliberation. In our education systems – where schools are sites of public political pedagogy (Andersson 2019) – experiences of learner participation in decision-making are vital to support flourishing democracies (Dewey 1985, Unger 2005, Biesta 2006, Fielding & Moss 2011). Dewey argued that education for democracy requires not only developing judgement that comes from a range of opportunities to apply scientific method to real world problems, but also the development of relational skills, and a further understanding of affective dynamics in civic discourse (1985). At the end of his writing career he expressed concern that, without these skills, media had the potential to put ‘hate in place of attempts at understanding’ (1940: 45).
Scotland provides an interesting context in which to examine education’s response to the changing dynamics shaping young people’s experience of democracy and participation and can inform understanding in other European countries. Within the past seven years, Scotland as a devolved nation of the United Kingdom, has engaged in two distinctly different referenda that redefine Scotland’s place within the global community. In September 2014 there was the referendum on Scottish independence, and in June 2016 the referendum on membership of the European Union. In education policy, there are signs of new approaches to advance young people’s involvement in decision making across the system beyond the regimes of formal governance groups (Mannion, Sowerby, & I'Anson 2015). In this work, we re-analysed three studies to move our focus from an emphasis on formal mechanisms of young people’s representation in educational settings (such as pupil councils and youth parliaments) as these fail to recognise the more everyday embedded and embodied decision-making processes where identity choices are often grounded.
This presentation compares evidence from research on children and young people’s participation in decision-making in school settings over a ten-year period to explore how the more mundane and informal aspects of decision-making practices and opportunities relate to formal governance and representative participation mechanisms. We argue that our findings are resonant with calls within the wider body of international literature on participation, decision-making and empowerment to refocus attention on the informal aspects which we see as an under-researched strata of participation activity of children and young people. The significance of recognising participation across informal as well as formal spheres of public civic engagement is far-reaching in that it alerts adults generally, and policy makers and professionals in particular, to the need to attend differently to the everyday and on-going practices and relations with young people, since these are connected to the realisations of rights-based service provisions of all kinds.
Our method has been to conduct secondary analysis of three previously published pieces of research on participation in Scottish schools completed in the last ten years. In the absence of longitudinally funded research on citizenship education, bringing these projects together is a valuable strategy to investigate the possible emerging patterns and trends. Though there is variation across studies in methods, a case study approach drawing on interview and focus group data was a common feature that allowed comparative cross-case analysis. One study included data from 43 focus groups held with students in 6 schools with participants asked to discuss political community, representation, democratic participation and the referendum on independence. The second study included focus groups and ‘walk along’ conversations with students in 7 schools and ‘arenas of participation’ framed the data collection. The third study comprised case studies of 4 contrasting schools with a pre-fieldwork survey of students and diary activity, a student-led school tour, participatory arts-based workshops, teacher interviews and an online forum for students to contribute to data analysis. Primary researchers from the three studies re-engaged in selective data analysis of each other’s studies. For this paper, exemplary data from the three studies were selected using a four-arena framework of participation wherein decision-making is understood to happen: in formal decision making groups; in teaching learning and assessment; in connection with communities; and in the wider or non-formal curriculum. The analysis was informed by a social practice theory approach (Holland & Lave 2009) and by insights from New Materialism (Coole & Frost 2010, Deleuze & Guattari 1987). These frame the exploration of the different ways that participation occurs and is supported in different arenas. The analysis draws on both textual and visual data to identify the ways in which embodied dynamics and affective constraints embedded in material aspects of school are factors in constraining and supporting children and young people’s experience of participation in the four linked arenas of schooling. Doing this cross-study analysis widens the lens on participation through examining the arenas of interaction in diverse ways. In each study, we re-examined our observations of participatory activities in schools in order to look at what distinct kind of interaction is afforded in different arenas, but also to discern what interaction cumulatively happens across arenas to create whole-school culture.
Data from across arenas indicated the importance of the interplay between formal and informal opportunities to have a say and influence school life. For example, in the first arena, we explored evidence that shows how pupils valued opportunities for participation in matters of teaching, learning and assessment with active, hands-on, experiential learning involving personalisation and expressions of choice. Opportunities to influence and participate in decisions about subject choice, topic, content, timetabling, sequence, structures and flow of lessons in teaching and learning were valued. Pupils would have liked more responsibility and a greater say in what they saw as an overly prescribed curriculum. It was noticeable that there were not many instances where structures and processes were in place for involving pupils in feeding back to the school about teaching and learning or other arenas. Cross-study examples illustrate the combination of formal and informal relational participatory encounters between adults and children that played an important constitutive role in the democratic life of schools and young people’s experience of its culture. As Mannion et al. (2015) argue, intergenerational dialogues can enhance purposeful, consequential, participation opportunities for all young people across all identified arenas of school life. Our analysis has found that while students find it difficult to articulate decision-making and participation in school, these encounters are materially felt and deserve greater attention and support by practitioners, researchers and policy-makers. We seek to go beyond critiquing the tokenism known to be commonplace in formal pupil council-type approaches in educational settings. We join a range of concerned citizens and academics increasingly examining the relation of research to activism (Ball 2013, Menser 2018) in the view that critique alone is a luxury we can no longer afford, instead we provide examples of how students can be involved in all types of arena in material ways.
Andersson, E. (2019). A transactional and action-oriented methodological approach to young people’s political socialisation. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, https://doi.org/10.1177/1746197919853807 Ball, S. (2013). Education, justice and democracy: the struggle over ignorance and opportunity, London: Centre for Labour and Social Studies. Biesta, G. (2006). Citizenship‐As‐Practice: The Educational Implications of an Inclusive and Relational Understanding of Citizenship. British Journal of Educational Studies 54 (1): 34-50. Buchannan, M. (2016). ‘Liked’, ‘Shared’, Re-tweeted: The Referendum Campaign on Social Media, In N. Blain, D Hutchison and G Hassan (Eds.), Scotland Referendum and the Media: national and international perspectives, (70-83). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Coole, D., & Frost, S. (Eds.). (2010). New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics. Durham NC, London: Duke University Press Books. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) (1st Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Dewey, J. (1940). Freedom and Culture. London: George Allen and Unwin. Dewey, J. (1985). Democracy and education (1916). The middle works, 9, (4-58). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Escobar, O. (2011). Public Dialogue and Deliberation: a communication perspective for public engagement practitioners. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. Fielding, M., & Moss, P. (2011). Radical education and the common school: a democratic alternative. London: Routledge. Holland, D., & Lave, J. (2009). Social Practice Theory and the Historical Production of Persons, An International Journal of Human Activity Theory, No. 2: 1-15. MacKenzie, A., & Bhatt, I. (2020). Lies, Bullshit and Fake News: Some Epistemological Concerns, Postdigital Science and Education, 2: 9-13 https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0025-4 Mannion G., Sowerby., M. & I'Anson, J. (2015). How Young People’s Participation in School Supports Achievement and Attainment. Scotland’s Commissioner For Children & Young People. SCCYP. Available from http://www.cypcs.org.uk/ufiles/achievement-and-attainment.pdf Menser, M. (2018). We Decide, Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy, Philadelphia; Temple University Press. Tarulli, D., & Skott-Myhre, H. (2006). The Immanent Rights of the Multitude: An Ontological Framework for Conceptualizing the Issue of Child and Youth Rights, The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 14: 187–201. Thomas, M. (2011) (Ed.). Deconstructing digital natives: Young people, tech¬nology and the new literacies. New York: Routledge. Unger, R.M. (2005). What should the Left propose? London: Verso.
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