Democracy in Schools: Encouraging Responsibility and citizenship through student participation in school decision making

Australia and New Zealand Education Law Association
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Law and Education, 2014, 19 (1), pp. 73 - 91
Issue Date:
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What should be the place of children’s voices in the running of their schools and in their education? Sadly, in Australia this question is often overlooked in the shifting sands of education policy. Commonly, state and federal governments focus on schools solely through a lens of educational attainment. Increasingly, the emphasis seems to be on the development of the national curriculum, and on the measuring of school and student performance in public examinations, publicised now on the MySchools website. Meanwhile, the media often focus on the behavioural problems with which schools are dealing and statistics reveal an increasing trend towards student disengagement from school through truancy and exclusion. The procedures for addressing problems, prescribed in policy and legislation, tend to be reactive rather than proactive. The formulation and establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) has led to a mounting global discussion on the rights of children generally. Particularly relevant in the education context is the right of participation set out in Article 12(1) and the link between the development of citizenship principles through democratic practices in schools, and nation-building.3 While participatory and restorative practices in education have been the subject of debate for several decades, and have been implemented elsewhere, such concepts have been slow to enter public consciousness in Australia. The teaching of citizenship in schools here has concentrated on civics classroom education. Increasingly though educators in Australia are taking the initiative in their schools to introduce citizenship by practice and example within the school structure, by ‘doing’ rather than just ‘teaching’. Many of these practices are associated with active citizenship and democracy, and are based on participation in decision making in schools, including in the restoration of interpersonal relationships. Where measures are implemented it is typically through the impetus of a keen principal or staff member, and while there are many indications of their success, they have yet to attract serious attention of education policy makers, legislators, and designers of university education curricula.
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