, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 363-379

Expert Witnesses: Voices Of Significance

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Abstract

Michael Fullan in 1991 made the comment that little was known about how students viewed educational change, as no one had thought to ask them. There is a small but growing literature seeking the views of students on a range of issues associated with schooling. This paper reports the findings of a study of students’ perceptions of top–down educational change, involving school amalgamations, closures and creation of middle schools. The policy process was purportedly to involve consultation with students. The study interviewed students to explore the nature and extent of their participation in the policy enactment and their views about the changes. Several meta level themes emerged from the students’ ‘voices,’ including issues associated with disempowerment, and competing social justice and economic discourses. The findings foreground the often messy and contradictory tensions evident in policy processes. The study found that despite the policy intent to include students, they continued to be the ‘objects’ of policy initiatives, submerged in what Freire labelled a ‘culture of silence.’ It was the macro level policy elite who exerted the most influence, using their power, privilege and status to propagate particular versions of schooling. The paper concludes that students are deeply impacted by educational change and they want to participate in restructuring agendas. Therefore policy makers at all levels need to make spaces for the active engagement of students in policy processes.