NUMBER 552 • 21 JULY • CONSULTING CHILDREN
Institutions like schools and hospitals have an inbuilt resistance to change. Such resistance does have survival value, in that without it the institution could be jumping on to every passing ‘band-wagon’ of professional fashion with potentially disastrous results for its stability and continuity. However, occasions arise when this resistance has to be overcome and we have made reference above to some ways forward on this front.
In this context it is interesting to note some evidence to indicate that the practice of consulting children may itself be self-reinforcing and self-validating. This possibility has thus far received little attention in the literature. In essence the suggestion is — in simple terms — that adults who are brought, perhaps reluctantly, to the point of consulting children are often so impressed by children’s responses that there is an irreversible conversion to the practice.
Numerous examples of this phenomenon came from an in-service course for senior managers in secondary schools in South-east Wales which focused on learning difficulties and behaviour problems. As an essential part of the course, the teachers were required to seek the views of their pupils about the nature and extent of any aspect of this topic. After much initial scepticism, the course members:
were often astounded by the balanced views which emerged. One of the headteachers on the course chose to carry out this exercise with a small (but ‘difficult’) class over several weeks, using a questionnaire that he and the pupils devised together. This very experienced headteacher reported later not only that the information was valuable but that his relationship with the class had been ‘transformed’ by the experience. (Davie and Galloway, 1996)
Vulliamy and Webb (1991) reported a similar finding in their research which was directed at the identification of factors which appeared to facilitate the change process for teachers undertaking school-based enquiries in the context of their post-graduate training or professional development. One of the major findings of the research was a change in the teachers’ attitudes and practice in respect of the increased value they placed on the views of their pupils.
One final example of this phenomenon — more tenuous because the author of the research does not claim it as an example — is nevertheless worth mentioning because of the above findings. The purpose of the enquiry (Francis, 1993) was to encourage trainee teachers to listen carefully to their pupils as the pupils were engaged in learning tasks and to get a better view of them as ‘social and personal selves’. Francis found that the trainees’ perceptions of their pupils changed positively as a result of this approach and furthermore the pupils’ learning improved. Unfortunately, the time frame of the research did not permit Francis to collect evidence as to whether this approach on the part of the trainees persisted — although some of the teachers reported later that it did. Clearly, long-term follow-up of this possible effect would be valuable.
Davie, R. (1996) Partnership with Children: The Advancing Trend. Davie, R., Upton, G., & Varma, V. In The Voice of the Child, A Handbook for Professionals. London: Falmer Press pp 9-10
Davie, R. and Galloway, D. (1996) The voice of the child in education. In Davie, R. and Galloway, D. (eds) Listening to children in education, London, David Fulton
Vulliamy, G. and Webb, R. (1991) Teacher research and educational change: an empirical study, British Educational Research Journal, 17, 3 pp 219-236BACK
Francis, H. (1993) Teachers Listening to Learners Voices. British Psychological Society Education Section. Leicester, BPS.