‘The Voice of the Child’ is a term that is frequently used in educational terms today. Long gone are the days when children were to be “seen and not heard”. Today it is widely recognised that children and young people have a voice and that this voice has to be listened to in matters that concern them. In its statement of values and commitments, Educate Together reiterates its commitment to:
- Placing the child at the centre of the educational process
- Empowering children to take an active role in society and in the stewardship of the environment
- Working in a democratic way that embraces the input from children, parents, teachers and supporters to enable the highest level of partnership and participation
In all of these commitments there is an onus on Educate Together schools to actively seek the participation of children in their own learning and to ensure that they have a voice, that they are listened to, that their opinions are actively sought and that they are allowed to give expression to their thoughts and ideas in a supportive, encouraging environment.
In all of our classes you will see, at various times, children planning together, investigating, sharing thoughts and ideas with their teachers and peers, making decisions about their learning. Very often they themselves are the best sources of information on their own learning and the best place to go for advice on how to make improvements. In our recent survey for school self-evaluation a lot of very interesting insights were provided by the children which will inform our school improvement process. John Mac Beath, an international educationalist who recently spoke at a principals’ seminar on school self-evaluation, believes very strongly that change in schools needs to start with the children. He talks of a process of “bottom up development with top down support”. Children are the future and their views are important, therefore we should explicitly invite children’s views all the time.
Young children are wiser than many might think; under the appropriate circumstances they have the capacity to express their views powerfully and often simply.
(Christensen & James, 2000; MacNaughton et al, 2003; Moloney, 2005)
From its inception Rathfarnham Educate Together was committed to listening to children’s voices and giving them an active role in the school. The first Student Council was formed in November 2003 when this was a very new idea in primary schools, and this is one aspect of our school life that has survived and grown in strength year on year. We have added more committees over the years and we now have four distinct areas of school life where children’s voices are actively sought and their views listened to at committee level. The Student Council is always decided by a peer vote, after students have been given an opportunity to present their ‘manifesto’ and make a speech. Many students make posters and actively canvass support, others put great effort into their speeches. The student council vote is also an opportunity to experience the democratic process in action, where there have to be winners and losers. During their year the members of the student council perform various tasks which sometimes involves liaising with outside agencies, and they have meetings with the Chairperson of the Board of Management, giving them a sense of the overall issues involved in running a school.
Some of the other committees require different skills such as making an application, which involves being able to highlight their own skills and attributes that would make them successful in a particular role. The role of the Green School Committee in our school ties in very closely with the ET commitment to allowing children to take an active role in society and in the stewardship of our environment and is a committee which those who have a natural aptitude in this area strive to join. The ICT Committee is comprised of a group of students who are talented in the use of ICT and who wanted to put these talents and skills to use for the good of the school. Their first project is to re-launch the Kid’s Blog and also to encourage greater use of the website in each of the classes. The Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, who have received training in this area, are fully committed to making sure that we have a happy school where bullying is not allowed to take root. They have a number of ideas for this year and are actively working on the yard to ensure that children are playing happily and that no-one is excluded.
We are very proud of these students who have put themselves forward on the various committees and their work is invaluable to the smooth running of the school. Thanks is also due to the staff members who give up lunch breaks, etc, to work with the various committees.
Below is a list of our present committee members.