Valuing Their Voices: Student Participation in Decision Making in Australian Schools
International Journal of Law & Education, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2014
19 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2016
Date Written: 2014
Formal recognition of the rights of children is embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). The almost universal ratification of this Convention has led to the reinforcement of children as equal citizens and to a mounting global discussion on the rights of children in all facets of society. Article 12 (1) provides for democratic principles in terms of respect for the views of the child. In many countries attention is now being paid to the exercise of this right in decision-making and in conflict resolution in schools. Such processes are being discussed in terms of not only engaging children and young people in their schools and in their education, but also being instrumental in enhancing the development of citizens in a democratic society. Against a background of research in comparative jurisdictions which discusses school democracy and practising citizenship, we set out to investigate the extent to which such practices may be implemented in school processes and procedures, and the effect of such implementation in Australian schools.
For our study, we employed a qualitative design in a cohort of schools in the Australian state of New South Wales. The data was gathered by means of semi-structured interviews of school personnel, students and parents; and observation of participatory and conflict resolution practices in the schools. The aim was to identify the nature of various practices, how they are implemented, the understanding and perceptions of these practices and their effect on the school communities. The project was designed to enhance an understanding of the concept of pupil democracy, how it may operate as part of formal practice in Australian schools, and the extent to which citizenship practices in schools may lead students to develop a greater sense of their place as democratic citizens in society. Ultimately, as legal academics, our aim is to gather a body of evidence to inform discourse relating to the incorporation of democratic practices within education policy and legislation.
Keywords: student participation, school democracy, restorative practice, practising citizenship
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