By Litsa Cosma
This week is Pupil Voice Week across the UK and schools are being encouraged to help their pupils to “Use Their Voice”. Being able to support children and young people to express their views has long been regarded as a key part of what educational psychologists do. While this appears to be straight forward, finding out what children and young people think can be challenging and complex.
When I worked as a graduate psychologist one of my main tasks was to gather the views of pupils who were having transfer reviews (moving from having a Statement of Special Education Needs to the new Education and Health Care Plans). I worked with pupils who had many different additional needs and I became particularly interested in pupils who had been categorised as having social and emotional difficulties. I realised that these pupils often found it difficult to talk about how they felt. Sometimes this was about a difficulty building rapport, as many of these pupils found it difficult to trust adults. Also as I was meeting them only once there was little time to develop a relationship with them.
When the pupils were able to talk to me about their views I found they had a lot to say and was able to gather information I that was helpful and relevant for their reviews. I found it useful to use a variety of methods to collect information and not to expect that pupils would find it easy to tell me their views. The materials produced by Helen Sanderson Associates to be used in Person Centred Planning were particularly useful. They provided a structure to support my conversations with the pupils.
This work helped me to understand that there are some groups of pupils whose voices are less easy to access and this knowledge has been invaluable since I became a trainee educational psychologist. I was therefore interested in research conducted by Clarke, Boorman and Nind (2013) who worked with girls who had been excluded from school. Given that these girls are in a minority often their voice is not “heard” in stories of exclusion.
There was some similarity with the work that I had done, as the researchers used both “task-centred” and “talk-centred” approaches. In my work I also had to judge if a young person was comfortable and able to talk to me or if they preferred doing an activity that thye could talk about. The Person Centred Planning materials enable me to take a “task-centred” approach that was helpful with pupils who found talking to an adult difficult or threatening.
Clarke et al. (2013) were also able to use digital approaches that reflected activities that the girls were familiar with and that caught their interest. One example was the use of a “Big Brother” style diary room. The logistics of these kinds of approaches are difficult for educational psychologists to use in our day to day work. Despite this, they may provide some inspiration for thinking of innovative ways to develop our practice, especially as more educational psychologists begin to use video in their work.
Having an effective approach to gathering the views of pupils requires us to be child centred and mindful of what interests the children and young people that we work with. Focusing upon this may help us to find new and innovative solutions to capturing “pupil voice” in our work.
Litsa is a trainee educational psychologist currently in year 2 of the University of Birmingham training course.
Clarke, G., Borrman, G. & Nind, M. (2013). “If they don’t listen I shout, and when I shout they listen”: Hearing the voices of girls with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. British Educational Research Journal, 37 (5), 765-780.
You can find a Person Centred Planning resources from Helen Sanderson Associates here
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