How to encourage participatory democracy and meaningful dialogue with children and young people in schools - National Democracy Week - July 2018


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                                      Glyncollen Primary, Student Council Pupil Voice, VocalEyes



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This is the next in our series of articles for National Democracy Week 2018. For more articles in the National Democracy Week series, see our campaign page here. We’ll be publishing new articles every day this week, so keep a look out for more takes on this important topic.





Participatory Democracy in Wales
2018 is the 20th anniversary of devolution in Wales. Education should promote Welsh civic identity but numerous initiatives have failed to deliver. VocalEyes ( and Dialogue Exchange ( are working to promote participatory democracy in schools.

VocalEyes is a digital platform through which all CYP (children and young people) in a school are invited to propose ideas for action; to rate and comment on each other’s ideas and identify priorities for school and community improvement. Introducing the platform in Cardiff schools as part of the UNICEF Child-Friendly-City initiative, CYP suggested ideas for making the city more child-friendly. Priorities include addressing homelessness, increasing understanding between different communities, tackling poverty, reducing plastic use and addressing CYP’s mental health.


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                     VocalEyes participatory democracy platform being used in Grange Primary School

Democratic possibilities in Wales

The Welsh Government (WG) has adopted the UNCRC (United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child) as a statutory obligation for all public bodies. This is an excellent starting point for participatory democracy because participation is central to the UNCRC. Despite a comprehensive legislative and policy framework, a rights perspective in Wales still has a long way to go. CYP need more opportunities to influence what goes on in education if they are to fully exercise participation rights.

Welsh Youth Parliament
The WG’s plans for a Welsh Youth Parliament (WYP) to work in parallel with the Welsh Assembly also happen this year. This plan demonstrates genuine commitment to involving youth from 11-16 in democratic decision-making and 16-18 year olds can vote in local elections.

These initiatives are important but representative democracy does not guarantee participation. Democratic participation should start in schools. CYP are growing up at a time of major species extinction, extensive pollution, catastrophic resource depletion and an inexorable rise in levels of C02 that amounts to a planetary emergency that must be addressed, they need opportunities to think critically about the things that affect them.

“Blue Planet II” has prompted an upsurge in CYP’s understanding of and interest in the environment and many of them are calling for plastic reduction. When they prioritize action over plastics they need opportunities to develop genuine understanding of the problem to identify steps for change in their own contexts. Our approach seeks to support participatory democracy in action.


A case study of VocalEyes in Glyncollen Primary School (Swansea) saw CYP identifying reducing plastic as a top priority. The teachers agreed and called for more research and investigations began. Year 6 questioned the use of plastic in the school and questioned the provision of small plastic bottles of free milk for children 4-7 years-olds. They estimated that 5,200,000 plastic milk bottles a year are being thrown away in Swansea. They have called on the WG to use 2 litre bottles to help reduce plastic pollution. They are waiting for a response.


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                           Glyncollen Primary’s top priority for improving their school – eliminating one-use plastics. 

Deliberative dialogue
Once the children using VocalEyes have identified and prioritised ideas for action they engage in deliberation together using a Community of Enquiry approach. Teachers trained by Dialogue Exchange in this method of democratic dialogue know how to help CYP respectfully explore different viewpoints and be willing to learn from each other as they discuss the changes they have prioritised.


  • Stage 1: a school signs up to VocalEyes, and the CYP suggest ideas for action that are rated, debated and prioritized by all.
    Stage 2: face-to-face deliberation using an Enquiry approach.
    Stage 3: Ideas requiring more research are delegated for investigation.
    Stage 4: Suggestions for action are taken to the school council.


From School to Community

The extended goal of VocalEyes is to link CYP and their parents to their geographic wards. This happens automatically when they sign into the VocalEyes platform where they discover their local councillors and can contribute ideas for their geographic area.


To read the full blog post, click here.


by Sue Lyle


Sue Lyle has been an educator for over 40 years as a teacher, advisory teacher, curriculum developer, teacher educator, CPD leader and now consultant. She believes that the key to happy, successful schools is good relationships. Good relationships are built on dialogue, talking and listening, sharing thinking and telling stories. You can find out more about her work at VocalEyes and Dialogue Exchange.




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