I want to draw your attention to the article “Four arenas of school-based participation: towards a heuristic for children’s rights-informed educational practice” by Mannion, Sowerby and L’Anson (2020). They sought to understand if and how young people would make a link between their participation rights and ‘doing well’ at school. The research involved a number of Scottish schools in areas of socio-economic deprivation chosen because they had higher than average attainments given their catchments.
So are these two things linked? Yes, they are. Is “doing well” at school just another way of saying academic achievement? Not exactly. According to Mannion et al, it entails many other aspects that came up in the evaluation findings of NEMESIS pilots such as an increased sense of belonging and trusted relationships with different members of the school community.
What I found particularly interesting is their framing of participation opportunities in 4 different arenas, and the 3rd and 4th in the list have strong connections with NEMESIS Co-labs:
- formal curriculum (what happens in the classroom);
- wider curriculum (e.g. school trips);
- decision making groups ;
- and connections with the wider community
In the concluding remarks, authors highlight the need to broaden the focus of pupil participation and children’s rights in education beyond the typical student voice initiatives such as pupil council membership and non-dialogical consultations.
The choice of words matter and authors employ ‘Participation’ as it transcends the meaning of the student’s voice. Or to put it other way, this is an invitation to explore scenarios where children cannot only have their voice heard but participate fully in the decision-making process and become actively engaged in bringing ideas to fruition. This ‘engagement in decision making with consequence‘ which is vital, and it should involve meaningful dialogue (not just an undiscussed reaction to an idea), be intergenerational and based on trust and ethical responsibility.
I may be wrong but this last sentence resonates strongly with co-lab experiences in NEMESIS pilot schools, don´t you think?