The road (not) taken: Principals' perceptions of at-risk pupils' participation in collective decision-making

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child anchors children's right to participate in decision-making. This right refers to decisions at the individual level as well as collective decisions taken by a group of children. Various studies have indicated that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds face high barriers to participation in collective decision-making and thus have fewer opportunities to enjoy the educational and developmental benefits of such participation. This study explored school principals' perceptions of at-risk youths' participation in collective decision-making in schools. Specifically, it analysed differences between the perceptions of principals who had established participatory frameworks and those who had not. The research design drew on interviews with 18 principals who manage high schools for at-risk youth in Israel. All interviewed principals acknowledged the potential cultural mismatch between the dominant models of pupil councils and the culture of at-risk youth. Principals who had established participatory frameworks viewed participation as a gradual process, trusting their pupils' capacity to attain higher levels of participation even if participatory activities did not come as ‘second nature’ to them. However, principals who did not institute such frameworks viewed their pupils' participation as an ‘all-or-nothing’ enterprise, inappropriate for at-risk youth. Fulfilling participation rights in schools for at-risk youth requires efforts to adapt the participatory capital to the pupils' background. The principals' perceptions of the participation process and of their pupils were intertwined with their willingness to engage in such adaptations and take the less-travelled road of participatory practices in schools for at-risk youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-554
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 British Educational Research Association.


  • at-risk youth
  • collective decision-making
  • participation
  • school principals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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