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Learner voice

Tim Rudd, Futurelab
Fiona Colligan, Educational Consultant
Rajay Naik, English Secondary Students Association (ESSA)

The full version of this handbook is available to download in pdf format - see box below. On this page you'll find the handbook's introduction, as well as some of the useful links listed at the end (skip down to links).

Download pdf version of this handbookhelp

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Learner voice (pdf, 307KB)

Listening to the voices of learners: a time for change

"Young people respond well to the challenge of responsibility. I strongly support the principle of ensuring that our children and young people participate more effectively in democratic process."[1]

Charles Clarke MP, former Secretary of State for Education

Despite the vast number of changes in the education system in recent years, learners are seldom consulted and remain largely unheard in the change process. If education is to become more personalised, then the views of learners must be heard. However, embedding 'learner voice'[2] is not just about changing outcomes or finding solutions to existing 'issues' but rather it is about changing the very processes, mechanisms and ways in which learners can have a direct influence on their education.

Futurelab's recent report on personalisation[3] expressed the belief that the education system should be reshaped around the needs of the learner rather than the learner merely conforming to the system. This requires significant changes in the culture of education and the relationships between schools, teachers and learners. More specifically, it requires a willingness for the views of learners to be listened to. Learners need to be encouraged to become actively involved in decisions about their education and there must be appropriate ways for them to do so.

The Government has clearly stated its intention to move towards a 'personalised' education system. In terms of education, one of its main priorities is "putting the learner at the centre"[4], as "a partner in learning, not a passive recipient"[5]. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) states that personalised education is not a new initiative but rather a "philosophy in education" that allows pupils to have "a real say about their learning"[6].

Personalising education[7] means offering greater choice for the learner and finding more ways of getting their voices heard. Learners need to be active in making their own voices heard but schools and teachers should also take a lead in developing ways to enable the views and opinions of learners to be expressed, allowing them to enter into dialogue and to bring about change.

The real goal however, may well be to go further still. In a report sent out to all schools[8], Leadbeater[9] argues that personalisation is not only about making sure learners have a voice in their education but are also active participants in defining what the service actually looks like in the first place. This notion of personalisation through participation may not yet be possible using existing methods. Therefore, new ways of enabling learners' voices to be heard may have to be considered.

This handbook draws on examples, case studies and research to provide learners and educators, particularly those in secondary schools and colleges, with information and ideas for promoting the voices of learners[10]. It does not offer a comprehensive set of tools for achieving greater learner voice within the education system. Rather it offers a range of examples and considers a variety of approaches that might be used to empower learners. It is ultimately up to learners and teachers to consider the best ways of promoting learner voice and decide what the most appropriate tools for their particular needs are at any given time.

The aim of this handbook is to increase the likelihood of learners becoming more active in shaping their own educational experiences by promoting debate about the need to change the culture of education and the waysnew digital technologies might be harnessed to empower learners. We hope it will be used as a tool to encourage such dialogue and to help promote the principles behind a truly personalised education system. Ultimately, the handbook aims to encourage learners to become active in shaping and directing their own education and to promote deeper engagement in learning.

In the next section are just a few of the core reasons why increasing learner voice is important for learners, teachers and the education system as a whole.

Useful links

English Secondary Students' Association (ESSA) - provides materials, links and information that can support student voice activities.
www.studentvoice.co.uk

Personalised Education Now - has a foundation of principles and core values which suggest the education landscape must cultivate active democratically-minded communities. It seeks to develop a rich, diverse and personalised educational landscape to meet the learning needs, lifestyles and life choices made by individuals, families and communities.
c.person.ed.gn.apc.org

Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) - offers a range of resources around children's rights and participation, with key principles outlined and good links to other relevant materials in a 'participation library'.
www.crae.org.uk
www.crae.org.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=
201&Itemid=145

Consulting Pupils - website with information for schools interested in students as researchers work.
www.consultingpupils.co.uk

Enquiring Minds - a three-year research and development programme, which aims to create opportunities for learners to be independent, take responsibility for their own learning, create their own knowledge and conduct their own research in the context of a rich digital information landscape.
www.enquiringminds.org.uk

The Phoenix Education Trust - supports the principles of democratic education in practice, gathers and disseminates examples of good practice and aims to inform policy makers, learners and teachers about the value of children and young people's participation in decision-making within education.
www.phoenixeducation.co.uk

International Democratic Education Network (IDEN) - a worldwide network of schools, organisations and individuals which upholds ideals around respect and trust, equality of status between children and adults. It promotes freedom of choice and democratic governance by children and adults together.
www.idenetwork.org

Research in Practice - this website has some excellent and detailed information and links to a range of other resources and sources of information. The following document specifically deals with young people and participation: Research in Practice (2006) Young People's Participation. Quality Protects Research Briefing No 3 (www.rip.org.uk/publications/documents/QPB/QPRB3.asp last accessed 15 June 2006). Research in Practice is the largest children and families research implementation project in England and Wales. It is a department of The Dartington Hall Trust run in collaboration with the Association of Directors of Social Services, The University of Sheffield and a wider network of participating agencies in the UK.

Youth.ie - provides some good resources, including a set of links to other materials which focus upon aspects related to consulting with a range of different groups of young people with varied needs and interests.
www.youth.ie/download/hear/13.pdf

Schools Councils UK - site to help support the development of democratically elected groups of students who represent their peers and enable pupils to become partners in their own education.
www.schoolcouncils.org

The Citizenship Foundation - offers information to empower individuals to engage in the wider community.
www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk

Being Heard - a site run by the Hansard Society aiming to increase participation in the parliamentary process. Through the Citizenship Education programme, it works with young people and schools to support the citizenship curriculum and provide information resources about engagement and participation. The 'Infobase' section gathers information, news and explanations of key political issues, whilst the 'Action Centre' offers young people the opportunity to take action and to be heard.
beingheard.org.uk/content

Students as Researchers - this site contains student accounts of their findings and experiences as researchers. Also contains teacher accounts of implementing a students-as-researchers approach in schools and associated resource materials.
www.studentsasresearchers.nexus.edu.au/pagesetup.html

Working Together: Giving Young People a Say - a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) document which provides guidance on what the Government believes participation in schools should mean.
www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm?consultationId=1222

Opening Education: Social Software and Learning - a Futurelab publication looking at the potential of social software for learning, providing an easy-to-use guide with common terms.
www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/publications_reports_articles/
opening_education_reports

  1. DfES (2003). Your Voice: A summary of the consultation document entitled 'Working Together'. London: HMSO. www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm?consultationId=1222 (last accessed 23 April 2006).

  2. Throughout this handbook the term 'learner voice' is used. It should be recognised however that there will be no single learner voice. The term used here refers to developing a culture and processes whereby learners of all ages are consulted and proactively engage with shaping their own educational experiences.

  3. Green, H, Facer, K and Rudd, T (2005). Personalisation and Digital Technologies. Bristol: Futurelab.

  4. DfES Standards Site. Learning About Personalisation. www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/innovation-unit/personalisation/pllearn/?version=1"

  5. DfES. Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners. Foreword by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills.

  6. DfES personalised learning website. www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/personalisedlearning/about

  7. There are different definitions of personalisation. Whilst all recognise the need for increased learner voice and choice, some place greater overt emphasis on the engagement of learners in actively co-producing educational scripts or learning pathways.

  8. DfES personalised learning website. www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/innovation-unit/pdf/Learningaboutpersonalisation.pdf?version=1

  9. Leadbeater, C (2005). Personalisation Through Participation: A New Script for Public Services. London: Demos.

  10. References to research articles, books and relevant project websites are included in the footnotes throughout this handbook. However, a reading list is provided at the end of the handbook that will point the reader towards the most accessible and easily available texts in this area.