This article explores the significance of actively engaging with students in school about matters that concern them. The discussion draws upon data from a large-scale mixed methods study in Australia that investigated how ‘wellbeing’ in schools is understood and facilitated. The qualitative phase of the research included semi-structured focus group interviews with 606 students, aged between 6 and 17 years, which incorporated an activity inviting students to imagine, draw and discuss an ideal school that promoted their wellbeing. These data reveal how capable students are of providing rich, nuanced accounts of their experience that could potentially inform school improvement. While varying somewhat across the age range involved, students identified creative ways that pedagogy, the school environment and relationships could be improved, changed or maintained to assist their wellbeing. They placed particular emphasis on the importance of opportunities to ‘have a say’ in relation to these matters. Such findings challenge deeply entrenched assumptions about who has the authority to speak on matters of student wellbeing, while also highlighting the potential of more democratic, participatory and inclusive approaches to change and improvement in schools.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aldgate, J. (2010). Child well-being, child development and family life. In C. McAuley & W. Rose (Eds.), Child well-being: Understanding children’s lives. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Anderson, D. L., & Graham, A. P. (2014). Improving student wellbeing: Having a say at school (Submitted for publication).
ARACY. (2013). Report card: The wellbeing of young Australians. Braddon: ACT: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).
Bessell, S. (2009). Children’s participation in decision-making in the Philippines: Understanding the attitudes of policy-makers and service providers. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 16(3), 299–316.
Bessell, S. (2011). Promoting children’s protection and participation (Vol. 6). Lismore: Southern Cross University, Lismore, Centre for Children and Young People.
Birkett, D. (2001). The school we'd like. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/jun/05/schools.uk7.
Blishen, B. (1969). The school I'd like. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.
Burke, C., & Grosvenor, I. (2003). The school I'd like: Children and young people's reflections on an education for the 21st Century. London: Routledge Farmer.
Buckingham, D. (2009). ‘Creative’ visual methods in media research: Possibilities, problems and proposals. Media, Culture and Society, 31(4), 633–652. doi:10.1177/0163443709335280.
Cairns, L. (2006). Participation with purpose. In E. K. M. Tisdall, J. M. Davis, A. Prout, & M. Hill (Eds.), Children, young people and social inclusion: Participation for what? (pp. 216–235). Bristol: Policy Press.
Cashmore, J. (2002). Promoting the participation of children and young people in care. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 837–847.
Cashmore, J., & Parkinson, P. (2008). Children’s and parents’ perceptions of children’s participation in decision-making after parental separation and divorce. Legal Studies Research Paper, 08(48), 1–27.
Christensen, P., & James, A. (Eds.). (2000). Research with children: Perspectives and practices. London: RoutledgeFalmer Press.
Clark, A., & Percy-Smith, B. (2006). Beyond consultation: Participatory practices in everyday spaces. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(2), 1–9.
Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing students’ perspectives:Towards trust, dialogue, and change in education. Educational Researcher, 31(4), 3–14.
Cook-Sather, A. (2006). Sound, presence, and power: “Student Voice” in educational research and reform. Curriculum Inquiry, 36(4), 359–390.
Cook-Sather, A. (2007). Resisting the impositional potential of student voice work: Lessons for liberatory educational research from poststructuralist feminist critiques of critical pedagogy. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3), 389–403.
Davies, L., Williams, C., & Yamashita, H. (2004). Inspiring schools: A literature review: Taking up the challenge of pupil participation. London: Carnegie Young People Initiative.
Davis, J. M., & Hill, M. (2006). Introduction. In E. K. M. Tisdall, J. M. Davis, M. Hill, & A. Prout (Eds.), Children, young people and social inclusion: Participation for what? (pp. 1–22). Bristol: The Policy Press.
de Róiste, A., Kelly, C., Molcho, M., Gavin, A., & Gabhainn, S. N. (2012). Is school participation good for children? Associations with health and wellbeing. Health Education, 112(2), 88–104. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09654281211203394.
Department of Education and Communities. (2014). The National Safe Schools Framework. Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.au/national-safe-schools-framework-0.
Earnshaw, O. (2014). Learning to be a child: A conceptual analysis of youth empowerment. Educational and Child Psychology, 31(1), 13–21.
Eckersley, R. (2005). What is wellbeing, and what promotes it? Background to a manifesto for wellbeing. In T. A. Institute (Ed.), The wellbeing manifesto. Canberra: The Australia Institute.
Fargas-Malet, M., McSherry, D., Larkin, E., & Robinson, C. (2010). Research with children: Methodological issues and innovative techniques. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 8(2), 175–192.
Fazal, R., & Lingard, B. (2013). Globalizing education policy. Online: Taylor and Francis.
Fielding, M. (2006). Leadership, radical student engagement and the necessity of person-centred education. Leadership in Education, 9(4), 299–313.
Fitzgerald, R., & Graham, A. (2010). "Something amazing I guess": Children's views about having a say about supervised contact. Australian Social Work, 64(4), 487–501.
Fitzgerald, R., Graham, A., Smith, A., & Taylor, N. (2010). Children's participation as a struggle over recognition: Promise of dialogue. In B. Percy-Smith & N. Thomas (Eds.), A Handbook of Children and Young People's Participation: Perspectives from theory and practice (pp. 293–305). London: Routledge.
Frost, R., & Holden, G. (2008). Student voice and future schools: Building partnerships for student participation. Improving Schools, 11, 83–95.
Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teacher’s College Press.
Gillett-Swan, J. K. (2014). Investigating twen children’s capacity to conceptualise the complex issue of wellbeing. Global Studies of Childhood, 4(2), 64–76.
Gonski, D., Boston, K., Greiner, K., Lawrence, C., Scales, B., & Tannock, P. (2011). Review of funding for schooling: Final report: Australian government.
Graham, A., & Fitzgerald, R. (2010). Supporting children’s social and emotional wellbeing: Does having a say matter? Children and Society, 25(6), 447–457
Graham, A., Fitzgerald, R., Powell, M., Thomas, N., Anderson, D. L., White, N. E. & Simmons, C. A. (2014). Improving approaches to wellbeing in schools: What role does recognition play? Final report, Vol. 1–4. Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
Greene, S., & Hill, M. (2005). Researching children’s experience: Methods and methodological issues. In D. Hogan & S. Greene (Eds.), Researching children’s experience: Methods and approaches (pp. 1–21). London: Sage.
Greig, A., Hobbs, C., & Roffey, S. (2014). Guest editorial: Empowering young people. Educational & Child Psychology, 31(1), 6–12.
Groundwater-Smith, S., & Kemmis, S. (2004). Knowing makes the difference: Learnings from the NSW priority action schools program Findings of the independent meta-evaluation study NSW Department of Education and Training.
Hargreaves, A. P., & Shirley, D. L. (2009). The fourth way: The inspiring future for educational change. USA: Corwin Press.
Hart, R. (1992). Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship. Florence: UNICEF.
Holdsworth, R. (2000). Schools that create real roles of value for young people. Prospects, 30(3), 349–362. doi:10.1007/bf02754058.
James, A. (2007). Giving voice to children’s voices: Practices and problems, pitfalls and potentials. American Anthropologist, 109(2), 261–272.
James, A., Jenks, C., & Prout, A. (1998). Theorizing childhood. Cambridge: Polity.
Kehily, M. (2009). An introduction to childhood studies (2nd ed.). London: Open University Press.
Kellett, M. (2010). Small shoes big steps! Empowering children as active researchers. American Journal of Community Scholarship, 46, 8.
Kirby, P., & Bryson, S. (2002). Measuring the magic? Evaluating and researching young people’s participation in public decision making. London: Carnegie Young People Initiative.
Kostenius, C. (2011). Picture this—our dream school! Swedish schoolchildren sharing their visions of school. Childhood, 18(4), 509–525.
Lansdown, G. (2006). International developments in children’s participation. In K. Tisdall, J. Davis, M. Hill, & A. Prout (Eds.), Children, young people and social inclusion: Participation for what? (pp. 139–178). Bristol: Policy Press.
Lehman-Frisch, S., Authier, J.-Y., & Dufaux, F. (2012). ‘Draw me your neighbourhood’: A gentrified Paris neighbourhood through its children’s eyes. Children’s Geographies, 10(1), 17–34. doi:10.1080/14733285.2011.638175.
Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: Problematising student participation in school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6(2), 125–146. doi:10.1007/s10833-005-1299-3.
Mannion, G. (2007). Going spatial, going relational: Why listening to children’ and children’s participation needs reframing. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3), 405–420.
Mercieca, D., & Mercieca, D. P. (2014). EPs becoming ignorant : Questioning the assumption of listening and empowerment in young children. Educational and Child Psychology, 31(1), 22–31.
Mitra, D. L. (2001). Opening the floodgates: Giving students a voice in school reform. Forum, 43(2), 9194.
Mitra, D. L. (2008). Amplifying student voice. Educational Leadership, 66(3), 20–25.
Mitra, D. L., & Kirshner, B. (2012). Insiders versus outsiders: Examining variability in student voice initiatives and their consequences for school change. In B. McMahon & J. Portelli (Eds.), Student engagement in urban schools: Beyond neoliberal discourses. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing.
Mitra, D. L., & Serriere, S. C. (2012). Student voice in elementary school reform: Examining youth development in fith graders. American Educational Research Journal, 49(4), 743–774.
Munns, G., Woodward, H., & Koletti, J. (2006). Engagement and student self-assessment. In G. Munns, J. Lawson, M. O’Brien, & K. Johnson (Eds.), School is for me: Pathways to student engagement. Sydney: Fair Go Project, NSW Department of Education and Training, University of Western Sydney.
Noble, T., McGrath, H., Roffey, S., Rowling, L., Carbines, R., & Robb, L. (2008). Scoping study into approaches to student wellbeing: Final report. DEEWR, ACT: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), ACU National, Erebus International.
O’Meara, J. (2011). Australian teacher education reforms: Reinforcing the problem or providing a solution? Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, 37(4), 423–431.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2006). Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Osler, A. (2010). Students’ perspectives on schooling. New York: Open University Press.
Partridge, A. (2005). Children and young people’s inclusion in public decision-making. Support for Learning, 20(4), 181–189.
Patton, G., Glover, S., Bond, L., Butler, H., Godfrey, C., Pietro, G., et al. (2000). The Gatehouse project: A systematic approach to mental health promotion in secondary schools. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34(4), 586.
Pufall, P., & Unsworth, R. (Eds.). (2004). Rethinking childhood. London: Rutgers Press.
Rowe, F., Stewart, D., & Petterson, C. (2007). Promoting school connectedness through whole school approaches. Health Education, 107(6), 524–542.
Shier, H. (2001). Pathways to participation: Openings, opportunities and obligation. Children & Society: The International Journal of Childhood and Children’s Services, 15, 107–117.
Soutter, A. (2011). What can we learn about wellbeing in school? Journal of Student Wellbeing, 5(1), 1–21.
Thomas, N. (2007). Towards a theory of children’s participation. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 15(2), 199–218.
Thomas, N. (2012). Love, rights and solidarity: Studying children’s participation using Honneth’s theory of recognition. Childhood, 19(4), 453–466.
Thomas, N., & O’Kane, C. (2000). Discovering what children think: Connections between research and practice. British Journal of Social Work, 30(6), 819–835.
Tisdall, E. (2009). Theorising children’s participation: Learning across countries and across disciplines. Paper presented at the seminar funded by the Leverhulme trust, 6–8 April, Cape town, South Africa.
Tisdall, E., & Bell, R. (2006). Included in governance? Children’s participation in ‘public’ decision making. In K. Tisdall, J. Davis, A. Prout, & M. Hill (Eds.), Children, young people and social inclusion: Participation for what? (pp. 103–119). Bristol: Policy Press.
Tisdall, E., Davis, J. M., & Gallagher, M. (2009). Researching with children and young people: Research design, methods, and analysis. London: Sage.
UNICEF. (2013). Child well-being in rich countries: A comparitive review. In P. Adamson (Ed.), Report card 11. Florence: Innocenti.
United Nations Human Rights. (1989). Article 12: Convention on the rights of the child. New York: United Nations.
The authors would like to acknowledge the funders of this research: the Australian Research Council (ARC); the Catholic Schools Office, Lismore; Interrelate; and Good Grief Ltd. Particular thanks to other members of the project team and to the many schools involved in this research – the principals and teachers who so generously gave their time and expertise and especially the students whose views, perspectives and imaginations were integral to the project and to this particular paper. Thanks also to Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass for her helpful comments on early drafts of this article.
About this article
Cite this article
Simmons, C., Graham, A. & Thomas, N. Imagining an ideal school for wellbeing: Locating student voice. J Educ Change 16, 129–144 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-014-9239-8
- Qualitative research
- Student wellbeing
- School improvement
- Student voice