Barton and Meighan’s (1979) view that the pupil’s perspective was one of the most under-researched areas in education is as true today as it was at that time. During the 1980s and 1990s, apart from a small number of notable exceptions (see, for example, Wade and Moore 1993), there has continued to be little interest shown by researchers in what children themselves have to say about their educational experiences. The fragmentation of political and social life under the guise of a radical neo-liberalism, together with financial cutbacks and recession, have shifted attention far away from those radical critiques of schooling which started from a desire to understand the learner’s experience (Hargreaves 1967; Lacey 1970; Willis 1977; Woods 1979). Their place has now largely been taken by the instrumental concerns of a struggling economy (Giroux 1983).
Despite this there is a small number of educational researchers, some of them influenced by child-care developments outside of the education system, who have expressed concern about what can happen when children are not listened to. This has led those researchers to an interest in techniques for gaining access to children’s thinking and involving children in the decision-making processes in areas that affect their futures (Davie 1991; Davie and Galloway, in press; Gersch 1987, 1992). Yet the issues raised by these attempts to take children seriously are far from straightforward. It will be argued in this chapter that a central difficulty professionals face in gaining access to children’s thinking in these contexts arises from the failure to contextualize professional practice within a theoretical framework that shows the relationship between the construction of childhood identities (including deviant identities) and the social structures within which they occur.