Children Decide: power, participation and purpose in the primary classroom Children Decide: power, participation and purpose in the primary classroom

The ‘Children Decide' project focused on children researching their role in decision-making in their classrooms and schools, with a view to increasing their involvement. Led by co-investigators, Sue Cox, and Anna Robinson-Pant, the action research project was carried out by children and their class teachers in six Norfolk primary schools from 2004 to 2006. The project was funded by the CfBT Education Trust.

As the project aimed to introduce more participatory approaches to decision-making in classrooms, this necessarily had implications for the ways in which adults worked with children as action researchers.
 
The project explored the constraints encountered by both children and teachers in sharing decisions, and in carrying out action research, and identified two dimensions of impact: the teachers' thinking and action, as well as children's research and decision-making. Children researched their own decision-making and began to take more ownership of decision-making in their classrooms. Teachers developed more insight into children's values, priorities and practices, though they struggled with their need to mediate the project aims in the context of their professional role in the current target-driven school culture. 
 
Key research insights were related to methodological innovation, as well as the empirical findings around the classroom context of decision-making noted above. Building on the long-established methodological contribution of the School's Centre for Applied Research in Education to action research in schools, the project pioneered the idea of engaging young children as action researchers. As well as developing child-friendly methods for data collection and analysis, the project influenced children's roles and identities in the classroom as a result of their involvement as action researchers. In academic publications, Cox and Robinson-Pant explored the methodological findings around facilitating children's action research in relation to negotiating differing identities, communicative practices and notions of risk. Their earlier CfBT project, ‘Empowering Children through Visual Communication' (2002-3), explored how adult-child power relationships in school councils were being affected by the promotion of literacy practices common in adult meetings, such as a written agenda and minutes. These research findings shaped the facilitation methods used in the ‘Children Decide' project and its aims. 
 
The project led to a subsequent ESRC seminar series on ‘Children as decision makers' (2007) with co-investigators, Caroline Dyer (University of Leeds) and Michele Schweisfurth (University of Birmingham). Educators, activists and researchers working in countries of both the South and North came together to share and reflect on approaches to facilitating children's participation in educational decision-making. This included hosting an international research seminar in one of the Norfolk partner primary schools so that teachers and children involved in the original Children Decide project could contribute to these wider debates. 
 

Related publications 

Cox, S., Dyer, C., Robinson-Pant, A. and M. Schweisfurth (2010) Children as Decision Makers in Education: Sharing Experiences Across Cultures, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd: London (edited volume)
 
Cox, S. and Robinson-Pant, A. (2010) ‘Children as researchers: a question of risk?' in Cox et al (ed) Children as Decision Makers in Education, London, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.: pp 143-152
 
Cox, S. and Robinson-Pant, A. (2008) ‘Power, participation and decision making in the primary classroom: children as action researchers', Educational Action Research, 16/4, 457- 468
 
Cox, S.,Currie, D., Frederick, K., Jarvis, D., Lawes, S., Millner, E., Nudd, K., Robinson-Pant, A., Stubbs, I., Taylor, T. and D. White (2007) Children Decide: Power, participation and purpose in the primary classroom, A guide for teachers based on a research project, funded by CfBT Education Trust, CfBTGuidance series, available on: http://cdn.cfbt.com/~/media/cfbtcorporate/files/research/2007/r-children-decide-2007.pdf
 
Cox, S. and Robinson-Pant, A (2006) ‘Enhancing participation in primary school and class councils through visual communication', Cambridge Journal of Education, 36/4, 515-532
 
Cox, S. and Robinson-Pant, A. (2004) ‘Communication practices in primary school councils', in Street, B. (ed.), Literacy across educational contexts, Caslon Press, Philadelphia, ISBN 0-9727507-2-X, pp 43 -64
 
The full project reports for Empowering Children through Visual Communication and Children Decide projects are available from CARE (d.corby@uea.ac.uk).