Student voice in Irish post-primary schools: a drama of voices

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Fleming, Domnall Patrick
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University College Cork
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This research is an exploration of the expression of student voice in Irish post-primary schools and how its affordance could impact on students’ and teachers’ experiences in the classroom, and at whole-school level through a student council. Student voice refers to the inclusion of students in decisions that shape their experiences in classrooms and schools, and is fundamental to a rights-based perspective that facilitates students to have a voice and a say in their education. Student voice is essential to the development of democratic principles, active citizenship, and learning and pedagogy. This qualitative research, based in three post-primary case-study schools, concerns teachers in eighteen classrooms engaging in dialogic consultation with their students over one school year. Teachers considered the students’ commentary and then adjusted their practice. The operation of student councils was also examined through the voices of council members, liaison teachers and school principals. Theorised within socio-cultural (social constructivist), social constructionist and poststructural frames, the complexity of student voice emerges from its conceptualisation and enactment. Affording students a voice in their classroom presented positive findings in the context of relationships, pedagogical change and students’ engagement, participation and achievement. The power and authority of the teacher and discordant student voices, particularly relating to examinations, presented challenges affecting teachers’ practice and students’ expectations. The functional redundancy of the student council as a construct for student voice at whole-school level, and its partial redundancy as a construct to reflect prefigurative democracy and active citizenship also emerge from the research. Current policy initiatives in Irish education situate student voice in pedagogy and as dialogic consultation at classroom and whole-school level. This work endorses the necessity for and benefit of such a positioning with the author further arguing that it should not become the instrumental student voice of data source, accountability and performativity.
Student voice , Student council , Democracy , Rights , Pedagogy
Fleming, D. P. 2013. Student voice in Irish post-primary schools: a drama of voices. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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