Headteachers' Perspectives on Managing Student Voice Activity: Power; Purpose; Participation; Potential

Copcutt, Peter Kenneth (2014). Headteachers' Perspectives on Managing Student Voice Activity: Power; Purpose; Participation; Potential. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f07d


This study argues that headteachers draw upon a conceptual framework - based on power, purpose, participation and potential - in order to successfully manage student voice activity in their schools.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, published in 1989, gives children who are capable of forming their own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. The following two decades witnessed a number of initiatives and legal instruments which enshrined this principle. In the context of schools, headteachers now have to manage this expressing of views and involvement in decision making in the form of ‘student voice activity’. However, no explicit frameworks exist for headteachers to draw upon in the management of student voice activity in schools. Therefore, the research reported in this thesis asked what implicit frameworks did headteachers draw upon to manage student voice activity.

A pilot study in one school - a questionnaire about student voice activity followed up by a semi-structured interview with a headteacher - hinted that the categories of power, purpose, participation and potential had some role to play in the implicit framework headteachers draw upon for managing student voice activity. A critical literature review revealed several complicated propositions regarding the categories of power, purpose, participation and potential but yielded few about how to manage student voice activity. An instrumental case study approach was adopted -deliberately selecting schools which would maximise the possibility of answering the research questions in a given time. After being canvassed several schools expressed an interest in this study; five were then selected on the basis of the information recorded in their school self evaluation form - those who had cited a wide variety of student voice activities within their school were selected. They included a secondary school with a 6th form, two large primary schools, one small primary school and a large junior school.

Three procedures were used to gather and analyse data from five headteachers - an initial questionnaire about student voice activity in their schools; a semi-structured interview; and, an analyses cycle. This third procedure involved four more interviews with each headteacher and several exercises including: the transcribing of interviews; respondent validation; pattern searching and pattern matching; explanation building; and, critiquing a draft report. Each final report from each school was compared and contrasted to identify commonalities and plausible truths in a cross-case comparison triangulation exercise.

The findings indicate that the implicit framework used by headteachers is in fact a conceptual framework in which four distinguishable factors can be identified: power; purpose; participation and potential: ‘Power’ is indicated by initiation, regulation, ownership and termination; ‘Purpose’ is related to tenet, intentions, experiences and outcomes; ‘Participation’ is associated with accessibility, choice and voice-equity; and, ‘Potential’ is seen in terms of agency, belonging and competence. The findings also indicate that these four concepts are interdependent, interconnected and interfluent.

The thesis concludes by recommending a power-purpose-participation-potential conceptual model or ‘4P Model’ which headteachers can use to examine student voice activity which promotes holistic improvement in its broadest sense, shapes improvement, engenders a culture of improvement, and meets the dual requirements of students and schools. Viewed through this lens headteachers may consider the wonderful possibilities of student voice activity, and the management journey they might take to maximise its possibilities. There is a symbiosis between how student voice activity is managed and its possibilities and this 4P Model provides a new way to understand and manage shifts in both. Finally this thesis describes a wonderful array of student voice activities which could be of great use to current headteachers interested in expanding their knowledge of what has worked in other contexts.

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