The NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) held its annual conference recently. One of the issues they discussed was the role of pupils in the recruitment of teaching staff. The union is so concerned about this issue that delegates voted to support a ballot for industrial action where the abuse of ‘pupil voice’ or ‘student voice’ is identified. This doesn’t actually mean that NASUWT members will be on the picket line next term, but that they may ballot members on whether to take industrial action where it identifies an abuse of ‘student voice’.
Giving pupils a voice in their education is officially endorsed by current UK education policy. However, this is not a new idea. Humanist approaches to education have long promoted the child as an active learner. While it cannot be claimed that the UK education system is an example of a humanist ideal of education, the use of ‘pupil voice’, encouraged by the DCSF has its roots in humanist approaches.
‘Pupil Voice’ can, at one end of the spectrum mean enabling pupils to express their views on education, and at the other, it can refer to pupils having some input into decisions made about their education, including the recruitment of teachers.
It is this later form of ‘pupil voice’ which the NASUWT has expressed concern about. The Guardian reported that children were asking ‘frivolous’ questions, such as “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”. This may be frivolous, but it perhaps reflects the influence of popular culture in young people’s lives, which they then apply to decision making about teachers.
The Independent also reported on the concerns of the NASUWT, highlighting the union’s fears that pupil voice has the potential to “disempower and deprofessionalise teachers”.
These concerns over ‘pupil voice’ have also been studied by researchers. Some of the concerns of the NASUWT were found in a study carried out by Bragg (2009) who found that teachers’ professional identities could be challenged by ‘pupil voice’. However, ‘pupil voice’ is enshrined in policy. The most obvious manifestation of this are School Councils. Under the 2002 Education Act every school in England is encouraged to have a School Council (the Government has the power to enforce their existence, but prefers to encourage), in Wales, School Councils are compulsory. Wider social policies also important, for example the 1989 Children’s Act which requires young people to be consulted on matters which affect them. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified also requires young people to be consulted.
This does not mean, however that pupils should have the power to hire and fire. There is a legal requirement for children to be consulted, and in schools this could mean pupils being involved in the recruitment process. However, it is the governing body which has the final say. This is how it should be, as these adults are responsible for making decisions about the management of the school and ensuring the well-being of their pupils. And, it needs to be highlighted, the NASUWT is not opposed to ‘pupil voice’ but is opposed to it being used instead of adult decision making. Pupils can be consulted, their feelings expressed, but, responsibility rests with adults.
It is not just pupils who draw on popular culture to frame their approach to recruiting teachers. Last year, Ambler Primary School in Islington ran an advert for a Deputy Head Teacher, they were looking for “Someone who has the X-Factor and is a Superstar!”
 Bragg, Sara(2007) ”But I listen to children anyway!’—teacher perspectives on pupil voice’, Educational Action Research, 15: 4, 505 — 518