The findings of this project will position student voice as a key part of the fabric of schools and the learning within and beyond classroom walls. International research into ‘student voice’ has identified positive school improvement and learning outcomes when students have a voice in their classrooms, school and learning. Given pervasive neoliberal demands for measurement, documentation, disciplinary discourses, and prescribed ‘technical practices’ (Dahlberg & Moss, 2004) and the valuing of positivist standpoints; successful student voice initiatives can be subject to tokenism, packaged and mandated and reduced to consultative rituals. If teachers are to understand and address structural challenges and respond to students’ voices; they will need to engage with themes such as underpinning democratic principles, commitment to examination of the role of power and appreciation of the need for marginalised voices to be heard.
The question of whether student voice makes a difference has been explored by researchers who have drawn a link between student voice, school culture, and an increase in student ownership of their education (Earl & Lee, 2000; Lee & Zimmerman, 2010; Mitra, 2003, 2004). Oldfather (1995), Cook-Sather (2002a, 2002b, 2014), and Fielding (2001a) found that increasing student voice reengaged students who had fallen through the cracks in school, having been alienated by a loss of voice. Educators would benefit from greater clarity about how student voice leads to a stronger sense of ownership by students. Students value having their voices heard and honoured. The relationship between voice and ownership may be dialectical and an exploration of the ongoing sociological structure-agency debate (Archer, 2013b; Tan, 2011) will be one of a number of potential dialogue topics.
This research will support teachers, to understand deep listening and the power of their students’ voices in classrooms and in learning, rather than to fall prey to the tokenistic opportunities becoming prevalent in these neoliberal times.
Given the DECD interest in student voice in learning, there are opportunities to influence the development of policy, and to highlight the importance of the underpinning democratic principles involved in enabling student voice.