There is a growing recognition that young people have a right to be heard and have something worthwhile to say about their school experiences. Policy makers internationally are thinking differently about the contribution of young people to today’s and tomorrow’s world. (Rudduck, 2003, p.1)
My connection with Cambridge University began in 2006 when I sent an exploratory
email to Professor Jean Rudduck and Julia Flutter, co-authors of the ground-breaking book, Consulting Pupils—What’s in it for schools? I discovered the publication while conducting a literature review on student engagement as Ontario focused on reducing the number of early school leavers. I quickly became familiar with the work of Jean Rudduck, Julia Flutter, Donald McIntyre, Sara Bragg, Donald McIntyre, Michael Fielding, Jane McGregor and many others who were involved with the Economic and Social Research Council’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP). Their work inspired what was to follow in Ontario.
Since 2008, Ontario’s Ministry of Education has implemented the Student Voice initiative which has three main components:
- SpeakUp Projects – $1.2 million for student-led projects;
- Minister’s Student Advisory Council (MSAC) – Composed of 60 students (Grades 7–12) from across the province who meet twice per year to share their ideas on what helps their learning; and
- Student Forums – Regional forums held across the province to gather student input on a variety of topics.
As of September 2014, 7000 grants have been awarded to 800 schools in 72 school boards for SpeakUp projects. Seven cohorts of students have served as advisors to the Minister of Education and many have continued their civic engagement as student trustees and as members of various political organizations. More than 40 Regional Student Forums have been organized to invite students to make recommendations regarding student councils, student engagement, leadership, and the Civics curriculum. Student feedback confirmed a desire to host local forums. In response, the Ministry created SpeakUp in a Box kits which they distribute free of charge upon request. More than 1500 SpeakUp in a Box kits have been ordered by students and teachers. High schools are using the kits to inform school improvement planning. More information can be found here: www.ontario.ca/speakup
The Consulting Pupils, A Toolkit for Teachers, (2003) and the Students as Researchers, Making a Difference (Fielding & Bragg, 2003) resources inspired Ontario’s student-led collaborative inquiry effort. In 2012, a Students as Researchers Forum was piloted involving 110 students and 30 teachers from grade 7 to 12. Students and teachers were trained in action research. Findings from projects have resulted in changes to policy and practice. For students from First Nations communities who transition to a publicly funded high school their Students as Researchers presentation at the 2013 Ontario Educational Research Forum demonstrates how impactful their findings were. Since the 2012 pilot, Students as Researchers collaborative inquiry forums are organized across the province for student and teacher teams. Each spring, the Students as Researcher conference provides an opportunity for teams to share their research findings publicly.
As impressive as all of this might be, this initiative was specific to one province and effecting only a fraction of the young people in the system. The bottom line is- there is more work to be done to “enable students to speak with insight and intelligence about how they learn in school” (Bragg, 2007). It is hoped that the Student Voice Practitioner space will gather evidence of effective practices for listening to the student voice in the “acoustic” of the ministry, district, school, and classroom.
I have retired from the Ministry of Education but continuing my effort to realize a day when students “are no longer surprised that anybody was prepared to listen” (Osborne and Collins, 1999). The Student Voice Practitioner network is intended to contribute to this outcome. We want your voice too!