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Children as Decision Makers in Education - Cox et al

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Hardcover: 208 pages / Publisher: Continuum / Published: 21 Jan 2010

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      10.12.2012 22:06
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      Essential reading for anyone interested in Citizenship, Children's Rights and School Councils.

      This book is an essential text for anyone interested in the concept of pupil/student voice, school councils and/or children's rights, specifically their right to voice their views on matters that affect them as laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). This right has been pushed to the forefront in recent years and there has been a big increase in the number of School Councils in the UK as a result. How these Councils operate, the purposes for which they are used and/or abused, and the power dynamics played out within them are a subject of great interest to me. Pupil participation has been linked to school effectiveness and school improvement in terms of the inevitable measures of exam results, and attendance, and it is these factors that may motivate school management teams rather than the human rights agenda.

      The book's remit, as indicated by its title, is wider than just school councils, though it contains a number of chapters about them. It draws together research from a range of international contexts, as befits an international concept enshrined in an international convention. This international perspective is instructive in showing how manifest the concept of children as decision makers is in some other countries, but also how neglected it is in others. The seventeen chapters are written by a wide range of contributors who have expertise in the field of education or international development.

      The book is divided into four parts:
      * Can we make space for children's decision making? Perspectives on educational policy
      * Children's decision-making: its impact on life in schools and the community
      * Children as decision makers: what are we trying to achieve? The ethical and political dimensions
      * Facilitating children's participation in research and decision making.

      Within these four parts each chapter stands alone as a discrete piece of research, and the combined effect is very powerful. Rather than consider each in turn I will just pick out a few examples.

      The first chapter by Colin Richards takes the 1967 Plowden Report as its starting point. This report was concerned with primary education in England and asserted that "At the heart of the educational process lies the child' and its slogan was "The child as agent of his own learning". As Richards points out though, there is no evidence at all that any children were consulted in the research or production of the report. Maintaining a focus on educational policy and its effect on children's participation and citizenship, the chapter then divides the period 1965 to the present day into different epochs with titles such as 'An age of excitement, 1965-74' and 'An age of regulation, 1988-97', this latter period seeing the introduction of the National Curriculum amongst other changes. The NC attempted to introduce Citizenship, but it never really flourished until it was made a statutory subject (rather than cross-curricular theme) after the publication of the 1998 Crick Report. The chapter concludes by pondering whether children's participation aims at making them active school citizens or whether it is aiming to prepare them for later life. With Richards and others having set the ball rolling through this consideration of the impact of educational policy, Part Two provides examples of children's participation in practice.

      Here we learn of children playing a part in the governing and running of schools. We learn of the differences of meaning and interpretation. For example researchers following a programme aiming to promote participatory school governance in Zambia show how children are represented on various committees within the school. The Ministry of Education has introduced improvement programmes that require children's participation, but there are widely varying views within local communities as to what this means and whether it is desirable. For example, one person said, "Children have ideas that adults can learn from", another said "They participate by being present in school. That is all they should do." An example of a contribution made by a child was, "They can ask us what we think because many of us have parents and grandparents that have not been to school and don't know what they should do to help us".

      Part three contains a very short but interesting chapter by Yamashita, Davies and Williams of the University of Birmingham which summarises the effects of pupil participation. They categorise these as personal and learning outcomes, outcomes for school and classroom, outcomes outside the school. The effects seem overwhelmingly positive, even when participation involves pupils giving feedback on teaching- a highly controversial practice I would say that has been spectacularly badly introduced and managed by some schools in the UK, and brilliantly by others. Notably, some countries such as Australia have regional and national councils where children are members and can influence policy making. In this country there is a Youth Parliament of course- I'm not sure how influential this actually is.

      Part four addresses the concept of children as researchers- not in the sense of adults giving them something to research, but rather children deciding for themselves what it is they need to research and going through the process of setting questions and identifying the means of answering these. The pitfalls and difficulties for teachers and adults are explored, though I don't recall reading too much about any children not participating effectively. Ostensibly this is a chapter with a practical focus giving details from case studies in Ghana and the UK.

      Certainly, this is a book that will make you think, especially if you work with children or are interested in education. The price however is prohibitive, currently retailing at around £75. Second hand copies do appear on ebay or amazon and I paid £25 for mine. However, I note that if you Google this book you can get the entire transcript as a PDF file.

      Edited by Sue Cox, Anna Robinson-Pant, Caroline Dyer, and Michele Schweisfurth this book was published by Continuum in 2010, so its research and findings are very relevant today.

      Thank you for reading this review, if you did indeed make it to the end. For my next review I will be considering Fentiman's Curiosity Cola. MMHm.

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