As Hammersley (2002) argues, one of the fundamental challenges for educational research is making the journey from research to policy and practice. For too long the perspective of learners has been ignored in educational research: “….rarely are their voices taken seriously into account in policies devised to improve teaching, learning and achievement” (Wood, 2003:365-6), despite the fact that learners, as Pollard, Triggs, Broadfoot et al (2000) have noted, are expert commentators. Learner voice is coming of age and through research, practice is developing and understanding deepening.
This report is organised into two parts: the first part is a review of the literature on learner voice, which was used to inform our ongoing learner voice work as well as highlighting issues of common concern across all phases of education, primary, secondary and tertiary as well as identify gaps in the literature which could be discussed at the one day conference linked to this work.
The one day conference: Listening to Learners: Partnerships in Action, aimed to disseminate innovative work in progress as well as good practice from other projects and initiatives. There were key note presentations from a number of speakers: researchers, academics and practitioners who provided details of current research (Pippa Lord), theoretical underpinnings (Michael Fielding), good practice (Gill Mullis and Laurie Goodlad). However the most important contributions came from young people, secondary school pupils, who presented during the plenary session and also facilitated the workshops. Following the event a conference wiki (http://listeningtolearners.pbworks.com)was set up to enable delegates to continue discussions and conversations on learner voice as well as a repository for conference materials.
There have been a number of reviews of the literature on learner voice undertaken by individuals and organisations, which are reviewed and cited in our own work. Our review cannot claim to be comprehensive nor exhaustive but serves as a useful starting point in setting out the policy background and context to learner voice, the various typologies and theoretical frameworks that have been developed, as well as some of the methodological issues and ethical concerns associated with learner voice work.
The second part is a case study of a student voice project which UEL has been engaged in since 2007. This case study is significant for three reasons. Firstly, it examines some of the tensions and ambiguities that exist when students are asked to become independent researchers. Secondly, it considers the extent to which student voice represents joint responsibility in the developments taking place or just the minority voices within pupil and teacher communities of practice. Thirdly, it raises questions about societal values and the contrived distance between adults and children in different cultural contexts.
At a time when research reveals that British children represent some of the unhappiest within the industrialised world, recognising the pervasiveness of the “ideology of immaturity” (Ruddock and Fielding, 2006:225) that exists in many schools in England can reduce hope in an increasingly complex world. Often couched in terms of inevitability, such an ideology can drain energy and commitment of both learners and teachers. The case study illustrates how young people, if listened to, have the potential to transform school processes, purposes and procedures. The voices of the learners in the study and their concerns give rise to complex hope in exceedingly complex times.
Report follows a one day conference Listening to Learners: Partnerships in Action held at UEL, and is composed of a review of the literature on learner voice and a case study at UEL. Alternate title "Practices, tensions and ambiguities in the voices of learners: a case study from the London Borough of Havering".