Sue Roulstone

Ensuring pupil voice: tips to ensure best practice

Professor Sue Roulstone is Emeritus Professor at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Much of her work has focussed on children and family perspectives on speech and language impairment. Sue spoke to I CAN about best practice around involving children and young people in sharing their views and decision making.

Ensuring the voice of children and young people with SLCN is heard is crucial, but not always easy to do. What would be some key ways that staff in school settings can ensure that they involve the views of children and young people in activities?

For me one of the basic principles is to ensure that you develop a culture and expectation that children and young people will be involved… so it forms part of the everyday activity of your setting rather than something that’s added on. In addition, it is essential to have a sense of respect and trust – where children trust adults and adults trust children.

Secondly, adults need to expect that children are individuals, and in that sense they will need to develop different ways of involving them – no one rule will work for everyone. We need to be creative and find different ways to make sure they are able to be involved. Even as adults, we don’t all like to give our views in the same ways, but we still want the opportunity to have our voice, and children are no different.

My next point is really underpinned by the principles of good quality teaching. Be explicit with children and young people about what they can expect, giving clear explanations and supporting their ability to access what they are being told, for example leaving plenty of time for them to respond, supporting them with visual cues. Get these things right and you will be able to properly involve children in activities.

A final basic principle centres on making sure children know who they are talking to. Children are often exposed to a number of different people, but very often do not know who they are and what their role is. So, making sure children are told who they are talking to, why they are working with them and what their role is, is really important.

In your work you have identified good practice that can be applied to the process of involving children and young people in decision making. Can you run through a few of the most important?

Involving anyone in a partnership, including when working on joint decision making, entails a three stage process.

Firstly, do they even know they have a choice? It is important to build a culture where they know they will be involved in decision making – children and young people can’t be expected to be participate in big decisions if they have no say in the little decisions. This culture therefore needs building, along with an expectation that they will be involved.

Secondly, we need to provide information about the choices available to children and young people. By this, we don’t just mean a list of the choices, but what each of them means. For example, if you were asking a child to make a choice about taking part in a sport or activity, don’t just list the activities – “you could do swimming, football, skating” etc. as to help make a decision they need details about what each of the choices would involve…”swimming would be fun, you’d need to get there on the bus and you’d need to take a kit”.

Finally, they will need help to evaluate that information to help them make a decision. For example, helping a child to work out that “swimming means going on the bus and I don’t like long journeys, whereas football could be in the field. But I’ll need to play in a team with football whereas swimming I can do on my own”. That way you are setting out the parameters and helping them to understand the implications of any decision or choice they make.
So…do they realise they have a choice? Have you explained the choices? Have you helped them to work through their views?

Are there things that practitioners should avoid?

There are a few simple things to avoid. It is often easy to make an assumption that we as adults know how a child feels, after all, we know them well and therefore feel we can make a decision for them. However, it pays to remember, it is not always the case that adult knows best! Another mistake can be talking too much – remember to leave big spaces for listening too…

Finally, if you ask questions, you may find that answers are limited to yes/no/not sure, often because children can find it hard to reflect like this. Often better is getting children to describe experiences they’ve had, for example “tell me what a good day in speech and language therapy would be”. You will find children open up more in this way.

What would you recommend in terms of useful reading or resources for ensuring pupil voice?

The Communication Trust have a toolkit for settings, to help them understand, review and shape their approach to involving children and young people as part of everyday good practice – Involving Children and Young People with SLCN – A toolkit for education settings. This is full of ideas for working with children and young people.

Picture Me: Children’s Views of Speech, Language and Communication Needs is a book by Rosalind Merrick full of ideas on how to support children in discussion about speech, language and communication needs.

Listening to Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs by Sue Roulstone and Sharynne Mcleod provides a range of creative techniques and solutions for listening to children and young people.

Research carried out for the Children’s Commissioner has concluded that positive approaches to listening to the student voice share important elements. These are summarised here:

Final thoughts?

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all the children and young people who have taken part in our research, and to their parents and therapists. We are very grateful for their support and enthusiasm.