Why student voice matters

Research shows student voice has the potential to benefit students, schools and the broader community by:

  • increasing student's engagement in learning
  • encouraging collaboration between students and their teachers
  • creating and maintaining a positive environment and culture
  • building respectful relationships, connections and belonging
  • developing personal and social capabilities.

Voice is having students being listened to and heard in different areas of school life.

Student voice in our classroom is creating consistent opportunities for feedback and reflection.

Student voice in our schools is school-wide opportunities for feedback such as Tell Them From Me.

Student voice in our community is providing ways for student to connect their skills and interests to local community issues and organisations.

Choice is about making personal choices and choosing to get involved.

Student choice in our classroom is increasing student decision-making about how they learn and are assessed.

Student choice in our schools is promoting connectedness, active citizenship and democratic practice.

Student choice in our community is student skills and interests driving community collaborations.

Influence is where students’ views influence actions or decisions at school.

Influence in our classroom is understanding relationships, promoting self-discipline and goal-setting.

Influence in our schools is student voice informing school planning and decisions.

Influence in our community is student voice shaping their local communities and future lives.

Working together is about teachers and students taking shared action in all areas of school life.

Working together in our classroom is building communication, collaboration, leadership and negotiation skills.

Working together in our schools is building communication, collaboration, leadership and negotiation skills.

Working together in our community is fostering authentic community partnerships.

The four factors that have the most impact for all students are student voice, influence, choice and working together.
Image: The four factors that have the most impact for all students are student voice, influence, choice and working together.

Research and evidence base

Recent department initiatives and priorities highlight the link between student participation, engagement and learning outcomes, for example: 'Schools that focus on giving children and young people voice, being active learners and developing strong character qualities that will enable them to succeed, thrive and contribute positively throughout life' (School Excellence Framework, p.4).

The Wellbeing Framework for Schools and School Excellence Framework identify meaningful opportunities for student participation and leadership, including voice and decision making as key to both student wellbeing and school excellence.

The quality and nature of participation is key to increasing student wellbeing and achievement. Four elements of participation have been identified as having most impact: student voice, influence, having choice and working together (Graham, A. et al., 2017). Schools that provide students with opportunities across all activities and settings for quality participation will provide the optimum conditions for student wellbeing and the benefits this incurs.

Student leadership provides an effective context for participation. High quality leadership approaches help all young people find their voices, participate in decision making and understand their rights and responsibilities as active citizens. Through leadership activities students can have a real impact on their learning, school environment and broader community.

There is a strong need to ensure all schools are provided with guidance regarding planning, evaluating and measuring impact of approaches and programs. Examples of good practice and implementation would assist schools developing effective approaches that make a difference to student outcomes.

Increasing student participation and autonomy has been identified as key for improving student wellbeing and achievement. Evidence includes:

  • Gonski, D. et al (2018) recommends students as partners in their own learning, recognising student voice as a mechanism for increased engagement, achievement and wellbeing.
  • Student leadership opportunities strengthen and develop leadership capability rather than being an innate aptitude. (Black, R. and Walsh, L, 2014, p. 32). For maximum efficacy, the teaching of leadership skills must be incorporated into teaching and learning programs (Black, R. and Walsh, L, 2014, p. 12).
  • Students view opportunities for meaningful student participation when associated with having influence in school decision making and activities as supporting higher levels of wellbeing. Furthermore, the higher the level of participation the higher the level of student wellbeing (Participation ARC, Executive Summary, 2018).
  • There is a limited amount of data on student leadership practices and the lack of consistency in key terms. Further evaluative research of leadership programs and the reframing of 'traditional school leadership structures? to be more inclusive and thus more beneficial for all students are recommended (Black, R. and Walsh, L, 2014, p. 32).
  • All students need opportunities for skill development and some will need support to participate in leadership development. Ensuring there is a distribution of diverse opportunities and greater inclusion will ensure all students have a voice and influence on decision making, thus broadening positive outcomes (Redmond, 2014).
  • Without a result or where efforts are purely tokenism, students can become frustrated and disillusioned with student participation strategies (Black, R. and Walsh, L., 2014). Marginalised students will require higher funding in implementing leadership and participation strategies (Kellet, M. 2011).


This is NSW Department of Education Student Voice, Participation and Leadership model. It shows the shift from teacher centred learning to student centred and that teachers must share their power with the students in order to activate student voice.
Image: NSW Department of Education Student Voice, Participation and Leadership model

Existing models of student participation and leadership

A variety of models and frameworks have been developed to measure and evaluate student participation and voice to increase the likelihood that student leadership initiatives are inclusive and effective. Models provide approaches to evaluating the nature of student engagement and involvement and the role of the adult. Factors which need to be considered include duration of tasks, resources, skills and capabilities, school or community involvement, complexity or depth of consultation or involvement.

International research on effective models have been reviewed to inform the development of a NSW public schools model to help schools find the right balance between teacher-centred and student-led teaching approaches.

The models and frameworks which have informed this model include ACARAs 'Personal and Social Capability Learning Continuum', Southern Cross University's 'Student Participation good practice guide' (2017), Toshalis and Nakulla's 2012 model of student voice, Roger Hart's 'Ladder of Children's Participation' (1992), Treseder's model of participation (1997) and Shier's model (2001).

Black, R., Walsh, L., Magee, J., Hutchins, L., Berman, N., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (2014). Student leadership: a review of effective practice. Canberra: ARACY.

CESE (2015). Student Wellbeing Literature Review. https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au//images/stories/PDF/student_wellbeing_LR_AA.pdf

Graham, A., Simmons, C., Truscott, J. Anderson, D., & Moss, A. (2017). Student Participation: A Good Practice Guide for Schools. Lismore: Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University: Lismore, Australia.

Hargreaves, D. (2005). Personalising Learning: Next Steps in Working Laterally In Children Taken Seriously in Theory, Policy and Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Milton Park, UK: Routledge.

Hess, D. (2018). Transforming school education for the smart machine age. Education Future Frontiers Occasional Paper Series; commissioned by the Department of Education.

Holdsworth, R. (2000). Schools that create real roles of value for young people, Prospects: Quarterly Review of Education (30:3), 349-362.

Holdsworth, R. (2005). Taking Young People Seriously Means Giving Them Serious Things To Do In: Children Taken Seriously in Theory, Policy and Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Kellett, M. (2011). 'Engaging with children and young people', Centre for Children and Young People: Background Briefing Series, no. 3.

Office of Advocate for Children and Young People. (2016). 'The NSW Strategic Plan for Children and Young People, 2016-19.

Toshalis, E. and Nakkula, M. (2012). 'Motivation, Engagement and student voice', The students at the centre series, https://studentsatthecenterhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Motivation-Engagement-Student-Voice-Students-at-the-Center-1.pdf

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