On children's legal right to have their voices heard

28th November 2008 at 00:00

The news that schools will be forced to listen to pupils has raised protests among teachers and heads who are worried the new law will represent yet another form of pressure on already beleaguered schools.

A major concern seems to be about the risk of schools being dragged into court by litigious parents angry that their children have not been granted enough "voice".

It is true that schools have to cope with significant pressure, and that if not sensibly implemented such a law could lead into risky territory. But these initiatives are expected in a country that ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention is a legally binding international instrument, with ratifying countries reporting periodically on its implementation. Last year, the UN recommended that the UK should do more in this regard.

Many teachers and heads are already doing a great job in listening to pupils' concerns, making sure their views are accounted for when taking vital decisions.

Young people are perfectly capable of engaging in decision-making, and research suggests that by doing so they develop a sense of ownership that will have a positive effect on motivation and attainment.

But "learner voice" is not only about attainment. It is first and foremost about democracy, about nurturing citizenship and critical thinking, and being open about the possibility that different choices could be made as a result.

Carlo Perrotta, Learning researcher, Futurelab, Bristol.

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