ISSN 1753-0849

Childhoods Today Online JournalChildhoods Today

An online journal for childhood studies

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Special Issue - June 21, 2009

Participation in practice: an evaluation of the primary school council as a participatory tool

Helen Veitch

School councils are promoted throughout England as the key tool for facilitating children's participation in schools by offering students real power and responsibility. Set primarily within the citizenship education framework, councils are presented as democracy in action, with numerous benefits for schools and children. But children's participation is rarely defined within the English education sector. Far greater analysis has been made of the concept of participation in the field of international development through a discourse redefining the term. This article draws on that discussion to analyse research undertaken with a primary school council and to consider the extent to which the council is an effective participatory tool. Using participatory methods and analysing the concept of participation at every level, the research found that the school council was a place where children 'voice their views' rather than where they take decisions. Consequently, it was not a participatory space. This highlighted the need for a redefinition of participation in the school context that makes children's empowerment the key purpose of school councils and recognises the tension between agency and structure that is inherent in all participatory spaces such as school councils.