Pupil voice and active participation form two central elements of international Human Rights Education (hre) provisions. This article draws upon empirical research conducted in primary schools across England to gauge the nature and extent of these processes at classroom and school level and to understand better the reasons for apparent deficiencies in their practice. It argues that whilst there is good practice regarding both concepts, they are nevertheless constrained within tightly controlled boundaries. The underlying reasons for these constraints – including concerns about loss of control and reservations about the value and efficacy of school councils – are explored by drawing upon data from qualitative interviews with teachers. Suggestion is made that in order to break down the boundaries that currently restrict voice and participation, teachers need to become comfortable with the idea of rights respecting learning environments and this will only happen through the provision of hre in their own teacher training.
The Big Society agenda of the UK Coalition government aims to develop a more participative and responsible society. In a children’s rights context this sounds progressive, inviting it might be hoped, some appreciation of the contributions that children and young people make to society. Yet, in the light of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK government still remains cautious in the extent to which it seems prepared to recognise children and young people as citizens. This paper explores one Coalition government initiative which is intended to promote citizenship and the building of the ‘Big Society’ – the National Citizen Service. By examining some official NCS documentation and website content we start to unpick the images of childhood and citizenship which underpin it. Central to our analysis is the question of how far young people are considered to be citizens.