Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Student Voice: An Emerging Discourse in Irish Education Policy

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Student Voice: An Emerging Discourse in Irish Education Policy

Article excerpt

Student voice: Definition, Theorised, Motivation, Contested


Student voice as an emergent and complex concept refers to students in dialogue, discussion and consultation on issues that concern them in relation to their education, but in particular, in relation to pedagogy and their experiences of schooling whether as a student cohort, individual class groups or within a forum construct like a student council (Fleming, 2013). Thus, the concept is both defined and described by a wide range of terms and activities that centre on the repositioning of students to facilitate their engagement with their teachers and schools. Across a range of research, instructional literature and policy documents on student voice, the language and terminology relating to the concept includes variously: 'participation of students', 'involvement of students', 'listening to students', 'consulting with students', 'dialogue with students', 'researching with students', 'students' perceptions', 'students' perspectives', 'evaluation by students' and 'empowering of students'. These terms are used, often interchangeably, in research and in descriptions of activities that reference the concept of student voice as students being engaged in interaction with peers, teachers and school authorities on matters and issues that affect them in their school experiences (ibid).

Rudduck (2005) positions the student as the object in a process of conversations directed by teachers seeking advice and inviting opinion and perspective from students, and seeking to re-engage the dis-engaged through student voice. This is a theme that emerges throughout student voice literature (Arnot, McIntyre, Pedder and Reay, 2004; Mitra, 2001, 2004, 2007; Nieto, 1994; Rudduck, 2007; Rudduck and Flutter, 2004; SooHoo, 1993).

Fielding and McGregor (2005) emphasize student voice as reflection, dialogue and action combined with discussion as 'student voice covers a range of activities that encourage reflection, discussion, dialogue and action on matters that primarily concern students' (ibid, p.2).

Thomson (2011) focuses on facilitating the child or young person to be agentive in the context of their education. This points to a rights-based definition as 'student voice refers to the process through which children and young people, individually and collectively are able to speak up about their education (ibid, p.24). Being 'able' indicates facilitation towards agency and suggests the right of students to have an individual or collective voice, which has volume in pursuit of action. Cook-Sather (2006) further references students' rights and introduces 'power' within the school hierarchical structure in a definition that seeks 'meaningful acknowledged presence' for students implying a change from a position of silence to active engaged participant. For Cook-Sather, with this acknowledgement of position comes 'the power to influence analyses of, decisions about, and practices in schools' (ibid., p.363). A further development of the concept envisions students not only as having a voice, an involvement, and a consultative role in schools, but also acting as participants in critical analysis and research directed at school reform (Thiessen, 2007). Thiessen positions student voice as co-construction of the school experience, as students become co-participants and researchers within analysis and reform. These 'initiatives', it is argued, represent a deep and agentive student voice pointing to a rights-based, emancipatory and democratic orientation for the concept.


Student voice is theorized within three frames; the voice of the student in the classroom within a socio-cultural theoretical frame that views learning as a social interaction and pedagogy as social constructivism; within a social constructionist theoretical frame that views student voice as dialogue, communication and consultation in classrooms and schools, and through a poststructural theoretical frame that challenges the concept in its assumption that a universal, individual or authentic student voice exists (Fleming, 2013). …

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