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)[1] 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!”

[1] Bragg, Sara(2007) ”But I listen to children anyway!’—teacher perspectives on pupil voice’, Educational Action Research, 15: 4, 505 — 518


2 thoughts on “Pupil Voice or Educational X Factor?

  1. This is a well considered and balanced post George, but I’d like to question one thing: you say that the NASUWT is not opposed to pupil voice (and they keep saying this too). However, if this is really the case why would they pull out these ridiculous examples and use them out of context if not to undermine the very idea of pupil voice itself?
    Off the back of this the Daily Mail, Telegraph, and Indy have run front page stories and opinion pieces calling for this ‘Government-imposed lunatics running the asylum’ to cease. If the NASUWT hadn’t wanted to give the impression that pupil voice itself was a bad idea, they’ve been singularly unsuccessful.

  2. Thanks for this. The examples in the papers are, frankly ridiculous, i.e. being asked to sing and say what your ideal fancy dress would be, but at the same time, they are not surprising, as this is what some children consider to be important. Presumably teachers need an awareness of what is important in children’s lives to be successful teachers. At the same time, I’m sure there is a lot of press hype about this, as these examples make good reading. In another article in the Independent, there is a far more positive account of the role of pupils in the recruitment process, but I think that was published before the conference, and if it is used properly, as that article seems to suggest, then it is difficult to argue against pupil voice. It is down to adults in the end, and while some teachers might find it a challenge, I’m sure that their professional integrity can be maintained alongside ‘pupil voice’, it all depends on how schools approach it. The ‘frivolous’ examples given, might be cases where it isn’t being used well, where there appears to be absence of adult guidance, and, maybe the NASUWT has a point here. Though I’m sure the press is partly responsible for this hype.

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