Hidden Voices The Student Voice Activity

Maggie Balshaw & Mel Ainscow


The 'Hidden Voices' exercise was developed in Portugal by UNESCO consultants. It is an action research, or action learning exercise. The action researchers can be external consultants, internal enquirers, or project co-ordinators. The words 'research' and 'action learning' have been omitted from these instructions in order to make them as user-friendly as possible. 'Information' has been used instead of 'data'.

A considerable amount of work had been done with the 'staff group', or teachers, before embarking upon this information-gathering exercise. The staff group had worked for two years on the development/implementation of their indicators of effective practice in developing more inclusive school contexts. Each indicator has a set of review questions to enable the gathering of information.


You need to:

Choose groups of children to represent various year groups or classes in the school. These can be of mixed ages or same ages. Random choice is best.

You need small pieces of paper with 'Positive (+ve)' and 'Negative (-ve)' at the top for each group member, and a large piece of card with the statements written at the top (see diagram below). These statements are directly related to the school's.

Introduction to group of children

* We are here to think about how to improve the way the school feels to you. * We/I want to listen to children's opinions and views. * This is a private discussion. It will remain anonymous (explain). * We will tell teachers about what has been said or written in the group, as they need to know what you think.

Stage 1: Children - Writing

On these two pieces of paper are written two headings, for example:

Write down on each piece of paper what you want to say. One thing on each piece of paper is fine, more if you want. Don't talk. No discussion to begin with. Write for yourself.

When they seem ready, check if they need help.

Let's start by reading the first one. Each student read so all can hear.

When each has had their turn:

Put them down here together so all can be seen.

Things that make you feel you want to …… Things that make you feel you don't want to…….







Let's have a conversation….

Do exactly the same with the negative (-ve) ones; Make notes as the children make significant comments.

Stage 2: Children - Further Questions

Probe more deeply using the school's chosen indicators and questions that you feel the children may be able to respond to. (Of course, some questions may not be relevant to them.)

These are some examples chosen in a school where the following issues were key:

Make notes of the children's responses to the indicator issues. Finish off by thanking them. Say how important it is that we listen to what they have to say. The teachers will hear what the group thinks and says, but not what individuals said.

Stage 3 - Staff analysis and discussion

The information for the staff to discuss and analyse is as follows:

Before the discussion:

1. To engage the staff group with the children's writing

2. To engage the staff group in a more detailed analysis of the information provided by the children

Questions to think about

These questions can be used with coordination teams:

These can be used in a whole school staff meeting:

With the whole group

Draw out the key findings from each indicator, or from the review questions, into the whole group. Make a record on a flipchart, and then identify action points. Or, you can listen to the feedback, and make a record of it (collate) after the meeting. Written feedback should be disseminated after the meeting. And another meeting should be arranged to deal with the findings and to do some further review and action planning.


Title: Hidden Voices: The student voice activity
Author: Balshaw, M and Ainscow, M
Date: 2002