At present, student voice is widely considered to be integral to much that occurs within educational systems across the world. Whilst pupils have been formally consulted within educational research for many years (Cortis and Grayson, 1978), there has been a recent upsurge in interest in involving children and young people as active participants. This is mirrored in proposals to promote their participation in decision making in a range of aspects of their school life including agency in relation to their learning (Flutter and Rudduck, 2004).
For example, it is widely accepted that pupils’ engagement with formative assessment activities can enhance learning and foster meta-cognitive skills which are considered important for the enhancement of future learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998). Emergent findings from my recent doctoral research, however, question the implementation of pupil voice in aspects of educational life. Specifically, it examines formative assessment with its assumption that pupils should have opportunities to voice their understanding of learning and teaching in their classrooms as valid members of their learning communities.
The affordances offered by the implementation of formative assessment practices – enhancement of future learning and the development of meta-cognitive skills – did not seem to be available for the pupils in the study. In Scotland there is an assumption that formative assessment practices are deeply embedded in classrooms and that pupils are be authentically involved and indeed hold agency in assessment ‘for’, ‘of’ and ‘as’ for learning. However, the pupils indicated that control of the formative assessment strategies was retained by the class teachers. The pupils articulated the view that many formative assessment practices, such as the completion of personal learning plans, were enacted in a tokenistic manner by classroom teachers
The pupils expressed two reasons for the teachers retaining control of the formative assessment strategies. Firstly, they articulated that many teachers retained a traditional view of children as insufficiently competent to participate in these processes. However, they also indicated that they were aware that teachers were under great pressure to demonstrate high levels of attainment to their professional colleagues, line managers and parents. It has also been noted that development of formative assessment processes such as self and peer assessment take time for pupils to develop. The pupils believed this pressure to demonstrate high levels of achievement over short periods of time that it was impossible for them to engage meaningfully and authentically in formative assessment processes.
This would align with Roth et al (2007) who suggest that when classroom teachers experience high levels of autonomy in their work lives, this results in a sense of empowerment, personal accomplishment and wellbeing. These teachers, in turn, feel able to facilitate greater autonomy for their pupils in learning. In contrast, teachers who feel restricted by high expectations from parents, colleagues and other forms of authority do not experience autonomy or feelings of wellbeing. These external forms of motivation impinging on their work would seem to translate into more restrictive, externally driven classroom practices for their pupils with a focus on behaviour control.
Formative assessment would seem to offer great opportunities for facilitating enhanced learning, improved meta-cognitive skills and the development of a collaborative learning community where all are valued. At present, however, it would appear that teachers are unable to enact them due to pressure to achieve short term, demonstrable results at the expense of developing long term learning skills. It might therefore be suggested that teachers be granted more professional freedom to take time to involve pupils meaningfully in the learning process as this will have long term benefits for all.
CORTIS, GERALD AND GRAYSON, ANNE (1978). Primary School Pupils’ Perceptions of Student Teachers Performance. Educational Review, 30 (2) pp.93-101.
FLUTTER, JULIA AND RUDDUCK, JEAN (2004). Consulting Pupils What’s in it for schools? Abington, Oxon: Routledge.
ROTH, GUY, ASSOR, AVI, KANAT-MAYMON, YANIV AND KAPLAN, HAVA (2007). Autonomous motivation for teaching: how self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99 (4) pp.761-777