How can we make sure that our student voice is heard?

This can be a challenging area for special schools as some students may not use words to communicate, or find communication very difficult.

These students do communicate with us; they have a voice and need to be listened to, but we need to listen in a different way.

Group of young smiling schoolchildren.The starting point must be a clear understanding of how individual students communicate, using communication charts. A communication chart is a person-centred thinking tool which supports thinking about and recording what we think a young person is communicating to us, and what we need to do to respond to this. ‘Listening’ to a young person’s behaviour and involving those who know them well are important aspects of trying to understand what matters to them in school, what works and doesn’t work for them in school and how they can best be supported to learn well. It is important that this understanding is checked out in practice to make sure that what we think the students are saying is more than just a ‘best guess’. This is an example of a pupil’s communication chart.

Capturing the information on a one-page profile is helpful in making sure that the rich information we gather about what individual students are saying is not lost, and that we consider what they are telling us about what is important to them and how best to support them.

As students get older and become young adults, it is important to remember that their rights change, making it all the more important that good systems are in place to ensure that each individual student has a voice and is heard. Decision-making agreements can support both the individual student and the school by giving a clear picture of how a young person makes decisions, the range of decisions they make, and what information and support they need on decision making. This person-centred thinking tool has two parts – the decision-making profile, which shares the young person’s preferences in decision-making, and the decision-making agreement, which specifies the important decisions and how the young person wishes to be supported. This tool really supports students post-16 years of age as they think about increasing responsibility for decision-making, and staff as they think about which decisions should be co-produced, giving opportunity for student voice to be heard.

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