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Age group 12 to 17 years

Autonomy and voice

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to give their opinion and be listened to by the adults around them. Giving young people a voice and encouraging them to be involved in decisions affecting them contributes to the development of self-esteem and identity. It also enables young people to learn how to develop and articulate opinions and make choices which can influence events.

Overview and areas of concern

The term ‘participation’ is often used to describe the active involvement of children and young people in being informed, expressing their views, having their views listened to and making decisions.For children and young people to be participants, both in their own lives and in the broader community, the acknowledgment and support of adults with whom they have contact is critical.2 When children and young people are supported to participate actively in decisions that affect their lives their wellbeing improves.3

In particular, providing students with the opportunity to have a say in the creation of a learning environment that best suits their needs supports their engagement with school and learning, can result in more effective strategies to address safety, and promotes autonomy and responsibility for learning.4

Data overview

In the Commissioner’s 2016 study, one‑half of participating Year 7 to Year 12 students felt that they have a say in how things work at their school.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students reporting they feel like they have a say in how things work at their school

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Areas of concern

In 2016, one in five students felt that they do not have a say in how things work at their school. Aboriginal students were the group most likely to disagree or strongly disagree (29.5%) compared to 20.4 per cent of non-Aboriginal students.

In 2016-17, the Department of Communities collected only 1,269 responses from children and young people in care aged five to 17 years regarding their care experiences. This represents approximately 35 per cent of the total number of children and young people in care in that age group.

Endnotes

  1. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2009, Participation Issues paper, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2011, Speaking Out About Wellbeing: Children and Young People speak out about being acknowledged and involved in decisions, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  3. NSW Commission for Children and Young People 2007, Ask the Children: Overview of Children’s Understandings of Well-being, NSW Commission for Children and Young People, p. 2.
  4. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 114.
Measure: Autonomy and voice

Experiencing a level of autonomy and having a voice are important developmental aspects for young people in all areas of their life including at school. Feeling their independence is supported and that they are able to participate in decision making at school is critical. Students in the Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation indicated that when they were provided with opportunities to have a say about school and learning it:

  • developed their confidence
  • increased their level of responsibility and ownership of their learning outcomes, and
  • created an environment that reflects their lives and identities, in which they felt valued and comfortable to learn.1

In 2016, the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation found that WA students who agree they have a say in how things work at their school are more likely to feel part of their school, to like school, and to say it is very important to them to be at school every day.

Narrative responses in the survey indicated that students strongly welcome and appreciate opportunities to have a say and give their input to a range of matters affecting their school and learning. Many students who say that they don’t like school or feel like they do not belong, give reasons such as, not being listened to, not being consulted or not being given the opportunity to effect change.

In the School and Learning Consultation, one-half of participating Year 7 to Year 12 WA students agreed with the statement that ‘students in this school have a say in how things work’. One in five Year 7 to Year 12 students disagreed with the statement.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 students responding to the statement, 'students in this school have a say in how things work', in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Non-Aboriginal

Aboriginal

All

Strongly agree or agree

48.8

53.2

49.5

51.7

51.3

45.5

51.0

Neither agree nor disagree

29.1

27.0

30.8

26.9

28.3

25.0

28.1

Disagree or strongly disagree

22.1

19.8

19.7

21.4

20.4

29.5

20.9

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Female students were more likely than male students to agree with this statement (53.2% compared to 48.8%) while Aboriginal students were significantly more likely to disagree or strongly disagree with this (29.5% compared to 20.4% non-Aboriginal students).

National School Opinion Survey

In the 2016 National School Opinion Survey,41.8 per cent of participating Year 7 to Year 12 WA students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘my school takes students’ opinions seriously’. Thirty-one per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, while 24.6 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

National School Opinion Survey, 2016: Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA government school students responding to the statement: ‘My school takes students’ opinions seriously’

Source: National School Opinion Survey 2016, Custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (unpublished).

A larger proportion (23.0%) of Aboriginal Year 5 to Year 12 students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement compared to non-Aboriginal students (19.0%).

Results from both student surveys indicate that between 20 and 25 per cent of high school students feel they have no say in how things work at their school. This finding strongly suggests that schools and their communities should allow students more opportunities to have a say about matters that affect them. Within a school environment there are many ways students can be encouraged and supported to exercise their autonomy and contribute to decision-making, including classroom management strategies, learning activities, curriculum content and school organisation.

Endnotes

  1. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 156.
  2. Source: Results from the National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA. All WA government schools are required to administer parent, student and staff National School Opinion Surveys (NSOS) at least every two years, commencing in 2014. The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was responsible for the development and implementation of the NSOS. The WA Department of Education and individual schools are also able to add additional questions to the survey. In WA, the first complete (although non-mandatory) implementation of the survey was conducted in government schools in 2016. The next survey will be conducted in 2018. The data should be interpreted with caution as the survey is relatively new and there is a consequent lack of an agreed baseline for results. 
Young people in care

Within the National Standards for out-of-home care, Standard 2 stipulates that ‘children and young people participate in decisions that have an impact on their lives’.

In WA, children and young people in care are required to have an individualised plan that details their health, education and other needs. One of the key mechanisms that the Department of Communities uses to effect care planning is Viewpoint, an on-line tool.

The Department for Child Protection and Family Support (Department of Communities) 2016-2017 Annual Report indicated 1,269 Viewpoint surveys were completed by children in care. It should be noted that where the same young person completes a survey more than once in the relevant time period, all their responses are included in this statistic. There were a total number of 3,604 children aged five to 17 years in care, therefore the maximum possible participation rate that year was 35 per cent.

If the Viewpoint survey is to continue as the primary mechanism for children and young people in care to have a say regarding their experience, it is critical that the participation rate of children and young people completing the questionnaire is increased.

Data from the Viewpoint survey is not published other than two collated effectiveness indicators in the Annual Report regarding the children and young people’s experiences of safety and support in their care arrangement.1

Endnotes

  1. The effectiveness indicators publicly reported are: proportion of children and young people in care who felt safe in their care arrangement (96% in 2016-17) and proportion of children and young people in care who felt supported in their care arrangement (83% in 2016-17).
Young people with disability

People with disability in the community, including children and young people, often experience social exclusion and barriers to meaningful participation in the community.1 There are significant issues and a range of barriers that can discourage, prevent or actively exclude children and young people with disability from participating in decisions that affect their lives. For some this can be the nature of their support needs, however more frequently it is a culture of low expectations, lack of opportunity, inaccessible processes and social and cultural barriers.2 

If Australia is to achieve inclusive and quality education for all, all young people, regardless of the range of their abilities, must be seen as active and valued participants who have the right to be heard and provided with equitable access to education.3 

No data is available on whether WA young people with disability feel that their autonomy is supported and their voice is heard at school or in other areas of life.

References

  1. National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, Shut out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia: National Disability Strategy Consultation Report, Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. Simmons C and Robinson S 2014, Strengthening Participation of Children and Young People with Disability in Advocacy, Children with Disability Australia.
  3. Cologan K 2013, Inclusion in Education: towards equality for students with disability, Children and Families Research Centre Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University.
Policy implications

Children and young people repeatedly say in consultations that they want to feel valued, respected, listened to and have their ideas taken seriously. They also want to be involved in making decisions and influencing matters that affect them and they recognise these rights as being important to their wellbeing.

There are many organisations that are delivering services for children and young people and/or engaging with children and young people as part of their work. These include schools, councils, police and justice organisations, medical practitioners and hospitals, and the family court.

All organisations whose work affects children and young people are encouraged to involve them in decision making. The Commissioner has published the Involving Children and Young People: Participation Guidelines for organisations that are planning to involve children and young people in their work and decision making.

The Commissioner has also provided case studies of the great work occurring around WA to involve children and young in ways which benefit both the organisation and children and young people.

The Commissioner undertakes consultations with children and young people on a wide range of topics and prepares reports and other publications, including:

Further resources

For more information on children and young people's autonomy and voice refer to the following resources: