Students' right to participate in school decision-making
: the perspectives of school governors

  • Catherine Thompson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) (UN, 1989) and Article 12 in particular, grants every child the right to express their views on all matters affecting them and have those views listened to and given due weight. School governors have a duty to ensure the student's participation rights are implemented and as holders of power are in a unique position to facilitate this. However, there is a lack of research on governor's perspectives on students' participation rights.

The study explored governors' perspectives on students' participation rights and how they understand their duties in relation to Article 12, using the theoretical framework of participatory governance. Fourteen school governors across nine post-primary schools were interviewed. The findings indicate that most of the governors did not have a detailed knowledge of students' participation rights and did not understand fully their obligations as duty bearers for the CRC.

A strong argument is made for the importance of school governors facilitating the participation rights of students in their schools. All of the governors believed that students' involvement in decision-making would result in benefits for students and governors but argued that factors such as wide-ranging responsibilities and limited time were barriers. The research indicates that the Department of Education needs to embrace a rights-based approach to policy and practice and provide more information and support for school governors. The findings also suggest that governors need to take a more proactive role in the engaging directly with students and in monitoring the school's participation work.

Participatory governance theory, which emphasises deliberative, authentic dialogue; effective intermediary structures; and, the empowerment of those who are marginalised, facilitated reflection on research findings. Drawings on Lovan et al.'s (2004) seven interlocking characteristics of participatory governance and applying the broader literature on the theory enabled the creation of new 'principles for participatory practice in school governance' which has the potential to inform school governors seeking to implement student's participation rights in their own schools.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorLaura Lundy (Supervisor) & Bronagh Byrne (Supervisor)

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