The Behaviour Question

3rd February 2012 at 00:00

I am doing a project about pupil voice, linked to a master's degree. In our school, 68 per cent of pupils feel they do not have a say in what happens. Our school council is not very effective at the moment. How do you make sure that pupils have a voice in your school?

What you said


Do some surveys and feed back to pupils that you have listened, but have decided to do what you were going to do anyway. That's what most schools do.


Are the dissatisfied pupils the ones who make silly requests like "We want to do fun things, not reading and writing"? They have had a say, but it's not appropriate to indulge it.

The expert answer

While I wish you all the best in your project, I counsel caution, mostly on the grounds that pupil voice is an attempt by the Devil to dismantle education. And that is putting it mildly.

This is not to say that I have no interest in what children think; I do. In fact, I often ask my pupils to give me feedback on how they are doing and what they might like to do. I take it in context; I consider it; I add it to my own thoughts and professional judgement. And then I make a decision based on all of these ingredients.

But modern student voice was invented in the Frankenstein laboratories of education as a reflex response to the Every Child Matters initiative, which was itself a reflex response to the tragic death of Victoria Climbie. How that translates into asking children what they should be taught and having students on interview panels makes me scratch my head in confusion.

I get that we should value children; that is why we teach them. What I do not get is that they should somehow be considered to have the full raft of rights enjoyed and endured by adults. They are children; we, for all our faults, are not.

It inevitably becomes an exercise in most schools of reversing the natural order. Things work just fine when grown-ups are in charge. Then along comes student voice and that paradigm flops on its head. So the fact that some children do not feel like they have been listened to fills me with satisfaction.

Ask yourself a meta-question: why should we ensure pupils have a voice? What end does it serve? Then you can decide if your present strategies are fit for purpose, rather than devising a tool for a job that does not need to be done.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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