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Investigating children's participation in decision-making in New Zealand primary schools: Participation, pathways and potential.

The notion of children and young people participating in a school’s decision-making processes has been the topic of much research and writing throughout the Western world since the 1980s. Existing research has included work that spans the continuum from individual students having input into decisions that affect them specifically, to a focus on student councils or other student groups where a small number of students contribute to decision-making that affect the student body as a whole. However, only a very small body of research or literature focuses on primary school children’s participation in decision-making and there appears to be little published in the New Zealand context. This thesis addresses this knowledge gap by examining children’s participation in decision-making in two New Zealand primary schools. By investigating the perspectives of principals, teachers and children, this study sought to critically examine the ways in which children participated in decision-making in two New Zealand primary schools, and explore the outcomes for children through their involvement in various decision-making mechanisms, including that of student leadership or representational roles. The related research questions (RQ) were: RQ1: In what ways do children participate in decision-making mechanisms, including formal student leadership roles; and RQ2: What are the lived experiences, perceptions and understandings of the children in regard to this participation? This thesis takes a qualitative, case study approach to examining teachers’, principals’ and children’s beliefs and practices in two primary schools. The research used semi-structured interviews to generate data from two principals and ten teachers about children’s participation in decision-making. Four focus groups were also conducted with a total of 29 children. Participative activities were completed by the children to gain insights into their perspectives about their experiences of participating in decision-making in their schools. The research found that the schools offered a variety of opportunities for children to participate in decision-making, including formal student leadership roles. Where authentic participation existed, adults facilitated and organised for children to be active and agentic decision-makers. Conversely, where adults offered contrived or very narrow opportunities, children had little voice or agency and authentic participation did not occur. The research raised issues about schools practices and pathways related to children’s participation in decision-making and found that the nature of these practices depended on adults’ knowledge about children and children’s rights, their views about children’s competency and agency, and the extent to which democratic practices within a social justice worldview were implemented. These findings enabled the creation of the pikotoru Mahi Ngātahi model of children’s participation in decision-making in primary schools.
Type of thesis
Smith, A. A. (2020). Investigating children’s participation in decision-making in New Zealand primary schools: Participation, pathways and potential. (Thesis, Doctor of Education (EdD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13875
The University of Waikato
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