Why pupil voice should be central to our teaching

Pupil voice gives children responsibility and nurtures collaboration, leadership and negotiation, says Blair Minchin

Blair Minchin

Student voice: Why teachers shouldn't underestimate the power of pupil voice in schools

Pupil voice is almost like a kind of magic, capable of transforming a school community. It pulls teachers and families closer together, focusing their thoughts on the key players in education  the children.

In the early years and the beginnings of primary school, pupil voice is a catalyst for learning, guiding and directing the route and shape that the curriculum takes. As children learn through play, practitioners are constantly observing, adapting and questioning in response to the ideas, curiosities and imaginative storylines of their pupils. 

However, as pupils progress up the school, the opportunities for pupils to lead their learning can fade. This isn’t always the fault of practitioners: the curriculum becomes more complex and the subject matter deepens. As more challenging concepts take longer to explain and longer to practise (whilst teachers also need to ensure there is adequate space for revision of previously covered material), educators begin to find our most valuable asset squeezed. No, not gluestick lids: time.

Pupil voice: What students want from teachers

Related: Why student voice is so important in learning

Opinion: 'Don't let the monster of student voice run rampage in your school'

Big read: 'Listen to pupil voice – your school will be better for it'

Yet, it’s so important that we find the time to listen to our pupils. It’s so important to create supportive and welcoming spaces where pupils feel they can voice their opinions. It’s so important to park our lesson plans and progressions, pivot and act upon the interests of the children in our classrooms.

The power of pupil voice

Pupil voice or student voice – builds a true sense of community as pupils are championed to take their skills and involve themselves in pertinent discussions around the direction of the school. As well as providing children with a great deal of responsibility, it nurtures collaboration, leadership and negotiation skills. I feel it’s also key to note that I’m not alone in recognising improvements in behaviour when spaces for pupil voice are found. 

Through pausing, listening and providing space in the school day, this year my pupils have set up a collection point working directly with our local food bank. They have performed their own mini-military tattoo, led a Christmas parade, developed daily maths revision tasks and even established a happiness squad to cheer pupils out of the school at the end of the day. They have directed our journey through the curriculum, choosing topics and suggesting ways in which we could tackle specific outcomes. Ultimately, they haven’t just been recipients of teacher talk and dutifully completing my worksheets: they have been invaluable partners in the delivery of their own education.

I’ve recently made a foray into the world of podcasting with my own channel  although, truth be told, I don’t do much of the talking.

Pupil Voices is another space where children are championed and empowered to speak their mind about their education. They tell me how they like to learn, weigh up the value in what we teach and even provide tips for educators and school leaders. Having only recorded one episode, I’ve already had a heap of insight to chew on.

Even at this early stage, I’m left in no doubt that my teaching will evolve and improve as I continue to seek out the magical effects of pupil voice – and let it influence every aspect of my practice.

Blair Minchin is a primary teacher in Edinburgh. He tweets @Mr_Minchin

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