book Curriculum Teaching

Pupil Voice – children’s experiences

Pupil voiceGiving some time to think about curriculum change, and what it means for professional colleagues, I have returned to the idea of not ignoring the recent past. The ‘core knowledge’ national curriculum will still require a detailed school curriculum and, within that, SoW/SoL giving full regard to curriculum making. A key component that remains unsullied by the secretary state is the acknowledgement that learners arrive with prior knowledge and experiences.

It’s a bit cheeky quoting this in  full but it provides a robust statement of a key part of the procees of defining what is important for pupils in this school and why.

Age of empowerment

Listen to children, not what the media say about them

Children today are portrayed as vulnerable innocents – and as celebrity-obsessed couch potatoes. Their teachers are reported as struggling with hazards they cannot contain, standards they cannot uphold and pupils they cannot control.

For most children – and teachers – neither perception is accurate. A minority of  young people do endure blighted lives but the cause is not the celebrity culture so much as poverty and prejudice (see page 14). For the rest, the sense of a ‘crisis’ of modern childhood has been overstated. In terms of health, living standards, public services, educational opportunity, and access to information and entertainment the majority have never had it so good. Despite the media’s erroneous insistence that schools neglect the 3Rs, children in England are perfectly capable of counting their blessings. They were the most upbeat contributors to the Review, their optimism in marked contrast to the pessimism expressed by parents – a perennial tendency of the older generation. Among their assets are their primary schools, shown to be largely happy places that unfailingly seek to celebrate the positive.

Of course, valid concerns remain – about family breakdown, obesity, poor mental health, and lack of space to play. But with so much bleak reporting of childhood, it is important to stress the positive. A recent gain is the growing respect for children as agents, valuable people and citizens in their own right. Children who feel empowered are more likely to be better and happier learners. In recognition of this, the power relations in many schools are beginning to shift, but the picture is still mixed and children are far from uniformly regarded as young citizens with important and insightful things to say about their education. The Review says that the ‘children’s voice’ movement is not a fad, but a trend that needs to become the way of school life (see box).

Key points
• Respect children’s experience, voices and rights. Engage them actively and directly in decisions that affect their learning.
• Build on new research on children’s development, learning, needs and capabilities.
• Ensure that teacher education is fully informed by these perspectives.

Many contributors to the Review drew on the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, expressing concern that schools could do more to foster children’s competence, sense of responsibility and self-respect. The UN convention should shape all policies relating to young people, says the Review. The government has correctly put children at the centre of its policies though the temptation to try to control the nature of childhood must be resisted. Childhood is a valuable time in its own right. It is a time to be relished, where the priority must be to strike the right balance between the child’s current needs and building the foundations for future education and employment.

At home, as at school, young people do not want to be over-protected, preferring some independence and choice in relation to their family life. Home is valued as a private place, one where school does not encroach. Yet children spend longer in school and school-related settings than they did 10 years ago, and when they get home they face what is called homework, but is in fact more school work. Many adults worry about the effect of this creeping ‘scholarisation’ on children’s well-being. Some say simply that children have other worthwhile things to do. The desire to keep family and academic life separate leads many children to regard parental involvement in school with unease. Some are wary of a double dose of control; others worry that their parents will not meet with teachers’ approval.

However, while children do not want school to have an open door into home, most are keen that bridges between the two are maintained. And it is vital, says the Review, that the traffic along these bridges flows both ways. Children take valuable understanding and skill into school as well as away from it. Many help out at home and are proud of what they can do in terms of looking after themselves and others. Home is where they first play with toys and friends, and where they first learn about relationships, moral codes and how to be healthy. Schools will benefit greatly from building on the fact that even their youngest children are not blank slates.

Pupil voice is a significant factor  – they are not going away and will be heard. It’s a sound reason for optimism in the future of learning in schools.

Would you agree?

Source: Hofkins, Diane and Northen, Stephanie (eds) (October 2009) Introducing the Cambridge Primary Review: Children, their world, their education, University of Cambridge and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation

The Cambridge Primary Review (CPR) was launched in October 2006 as a wide-ranging independent enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England. Supported by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation from 2006-12, it is based at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and directed by Professor Robin Alexander.

THE FINAL REPORT. Children, their World, their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, 608 pp, Routledge, October 2009. ISBN 978-0-415-54871-7 (pb), 978-0-415-54870-0 (hb). Editor: Robin Alexander. Authorial team: Robin Alexander, Michael Armstrong, Julia Flutter, Linda Hargreaves, Wynne Harlen, David Harrison, Elizabeth-Hartley-Brewer, Ruth Kershner, John MacBeath, Berry Mayall, Stephanie Northen, Gillian Pugh, Colin Richards and David Utting. Order a copy at

The Geographical Association has run projects such as Young People’s Geographies.

Global Action Plan asked YouGov to research views on sustainability held 16-24 year-olds. It provides an interesting read and would seem to set some useful benchmarks for school-based pupil surveys – children’s experiences are a key component to curriculum making.

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