Author(s):Joan Smith, Hilary Cremin, Hugh Busher

Conference:ECER 2008, From Teaching to Learning?

Network:7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education


Session Information

07 SES 04A, Pupils' Contested Identities

Paper Session


Room:BE 016

Chair:Ghazala Bhatti


Disputing Dominant Discourses: Students’ and Teachers’ Interpretations of School

This paper contrasts the ‘voices’ and work-related identities of some students and teachers in a secondary school in England, UK. The school mainly serves an economically deprived neighbourhood of an East Midlands city. The research project on which it is based investigated how student identities are (re) constructed in school, promoting or inhibiting learning, engagement and inclusion. Recent central government education policy in England, UK, for the secondary school sector has placed great emphasis on student ‘voice’ and inclusive education (DfES, 2004) as a means of facilitating student learning. The DfEE (2001), for example, suggests that pupils should be involved in decisions about their own individual learning and about practices in lessons and a school as a whole. Schools are required to provide evidence of student consultation to School Inspectors. ‘Student voice’ is often focused on school improvement, rather than on children’s rights of citizenship (Thompson and Gunter, 2005). Senior school policy makers seem to perceive ‘pupil voice’ as a means of achieving school improvement and higher standards of attainment (Thompson and Gunter, 2005). However, such ‘consultation’ is often tokenistic (Byrom et al, 2007), taking the form of formal student councils, the remit of which is circumscribed by senior staff. In practice students’ views about what might constitute for them successful teaching and learning are often completely disregarded by teachers (Hancock and Mansfield, 2002). Teachers who try to include students’ voices in school policy-making are constrained by government policies on standards and high attainment (Riley and Rustique-Forrester, 2002). Even when students’ voices are heard, greater respect is accorded to some rather than others (McGregor, 2007). The heterogeneity of student voices rarely seems to be acknowledged. Our study investigated students’ and teachers’ work-related identities and ‘voices’ in relation to the dominant discourses of a school, and how they perceived schooling. It acknowledged the heterogeneity of student voice by investigating the different perspectives of engaged and disaffected students and their teachers. It draws on conceptual frameworks of post-structuralism (Foucault in Gordon 1980), identity (Giddens, 1991) and student voice (Fielding, 2004; and Byrom et al, 2007) to make sense of the different work-related identities students constructed and the voices they developed and how these affected their views of learning and of school.


This is a case study of engaged and disaffected students (as defined by their class teachers) in a secondary school an East Midlands city in England, UK. It focused on 41 Year Nine (14 year old) students and their teachers from four different classes: top and bottom English teaching sets, the Special Educational Needs group, and a mixed ability Personal and Social Education (PSHE) group. The students were trained in visual ethnography to capture views of themselves in school photographically and then construct a story board /scrapbook with them. These scrapbooks formed the basis of students’ reflexive interviews with the research team. Teachers were asked to carry out a similar process. Students’ and teachers’ views were triangulated with those of senior school managers and some parents, and from school policy documents. Qualitative data was analysed thematically and through critical discourse analysis. Pictorial data was analysed using simple descriptive statistics as well as for its meaning to participants.

Expected Outcomes

Initial findings show the limited scope teachers have to harness students’ views on school because of government agenda and their own views of appropriate relationships with students. Most students show evidence of alienation from schooling which, in some cases is hindering their learning. Greater opportunity for teachers and students to hear and shape action to take account of each others' views is likely to facilitate students' learning. Visual ethnography appears to be a powerful tool for eliciting insights into the complexitiex of students' voices.


Byrom, T., Thomson, P., and Gates, P (2007) My school has been quite pushy about the Oxbridge thing: voice and choice of higher education in Improving Schools, 10 (1) pp.29 - 40
Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (2001) Schools building on success. London: HMSO
Department for Education and Science (DfES) (2004) Every Child Matters: Change for Children, London: DfES
Fielding, M (2004) Transformative approaches to student voice: Theoretical underpinnings, recalcitrant realities, British Educational Research Journal, 30 (2): 295-310
Foucault, M in C. Gordon (ed) (1980) Power / Knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings by Michel Foucault, 1972-1977 New York: Pantheon Books
Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Cambridge: Polity Press
Hancock, R. and Mansfield, M. (2002) The Literacy Hour: A case for listening to children, The Curriculum Journal, 13 (2) 183 - 200
McGregor, J (2007) Recognizing student leadership: schools and networks as sites of opportunity in Improving Schools, 10 (1) pp.86 - 101
Riley, K and Rustique-Forrester, E (2002) Working with disaffected students, London: Paul Chapman
Thomson P & Gunter H (2005) Researching students: voices and processes in a school evaluation, Paper presented to the Symposium: "Speaking up and speaking out: international perspectives on the democratic possibilities of student voice" AERA, Montreal, April 2005

Author Information

Joan Smith
University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Hilary Cremin
University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Hugh Busher
University of Leicester
School of Education