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'Students deserve a powerful voice'

Too often colleges’ attempts to give students a voice seem like a box-ticking exercise. Why don’t we introduce genuine democratic participation to give students real choices in their learning?

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Too often colleges’ attempts to give students a voice seem like a box-ticking exercise. Why don’t we introduce genuine democratic participation to give students real choices in their learning?

FE is not like schooling. Yes, colleges are educational institutions in which learning takes place in a range of subject areas. Yup, people get graded and sit exams. But in lots of other ways, colleges are nothing like schools.

One of the areas where this should be most obvious is in the treatment of students. School pupils have a right to all sorts of things: a broad education; the right learning to allow them to pass their exams; a safe learning environment. The same applies to college students, but all too often it feels like we forget that they have a much more active stake in their education. They have made a choice to go to college; they have chosen a course and have placed their future in the hands of teachers and college staff.

Some may require additional support or a helping hand in making the right choices, but they also have a right to be an active participant in their education. We talk about their “right” to resit their GCSE, for example. But shouldn’t it also be their right to not choose that path and instead pick a qualification more suited to them? By imposing “compulsory” resits, are we not actually removing their agency?

Which brings us on to student voice. It is something we feel is the right thing to do for students – giving them a say in their education. But are we actually brave enough to give them a real say? Or are we not, much more commonly, simply ticking a box without introducing any real democratic element to FE?

In her article this week, Christina Donovan says student voice “isn’t just about building self-esteem, improving welfare and enrichment (although it is also all of those things). It is an opportunity for the student to be valued as a partner in their own learning…It is about agency and democratic participation.”

Giving students a real say can only make FE better. We trust learners to make the right choice in coming to college. Why not trust them to make the right choices once they’re there?

 

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