Student voice - a guide for schools

Promoting good practice in student participation, agency and voice.

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Student voice

Student voice: a guide

Sets out the importance of student voice in finding solutions to bullying and aims to promote good practice in student participation.


If we want to make a positive change in our schools and communities, the voices of children and young people have to be a part of that.

Students have a unique and important perspective on bullying prevention at their school. Asking children and young people what they think is a significant step towards making sure that bullying prevention approaches are truly student-focused and effective.

Student voice is about having a culture that equally values the involvement and contribution of children and young people. The whole school community benefits when students get involved in preventing and reducing bullying.

By increasing student voice in schools, students are given the opportunity to contribute their opinions on a variety of levels, including sharing their views on problems and potential solutions in their school. Research suggests that student voice, when students have a genuine say, serves as a mechanism for change in schools. Positive outcomes include:

  • improving teacher-student relationships
  • increasing student engagement with their learning
  • raising student self-esteem and efficacy.

Students point out that having a say provides a sense of belonging, being cared for, respected and valued.

There are no set rules about how to incorporate student voice into a school’s daily activities. Student participation in the school community can happen across a number of levels, from basic to high level, and from adult-led to student-led. Generally, the higher the level of student participation, the more meaningful it is to students.

This guide aims to promote good practice in student participation. It has been written for educators, but can also be used by other professionals and by students themselves.

We know that there are many good practice examples. If you have a case study you would like to share, please send it to

'Student voice'

The term ‘student voice’, ‘student leadership’ and ‘student agency’, occur often in education circles.

Many think this is students feeling they have some influence by having a say through surveys, student councils, or feedback forms.

But research has shown that the more students have choice and opportunities for collaboration, the more their motivation and engagement is likely to increase.

In their much-referenced 2012 paper Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice, researchers Eric Toshalis and Michael Nakkula conclude: “Promoting student voice also has been linked to other important educational outcomes, including elevated achievement in marginalised student populations; greater classroom participation; enhanced school reform efforts; better self-reflection and preparation for improvement in struggling students; and decreased behaviour problems.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) (external link) is an international agreement that protects the human rights of children and young people under the age of 18.

The Convention promotes the participation of children and young people in decision-making, with Article 12 stating that signatories "shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child".

There are four fundamental principles to guide the interpretation of the Convention:

  • that all the rights guaranteed by the UNCRC must be available without discrimination of any kind (Article 2)
  • that the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration in all actions concerening children (Article 3)
  • that every child has the right to life, survival and development (Article 3), and
  • that the child's view must be considered and takeninto account in all matters affecting him or her (Article 12).

The Office of the Children's Commissioner  (external link)is responsible for convening the UNCRC Monitoring Group, which monitors the New Zealand Government’s implementation of the Children’s Convention. New Zealand children have told the Monitoring Group of their concerns about bullying, discrimination and racism taking place in their schools and communities.

The importance of principals and school leaders

Research shows that schools need a ‘champion’ to motivate, maintain and bring about change.

In order for student voice to become an integral process in the school system, principals must play a key role in honouring student voice and developing a school culture that promotes it.