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Voices into Action (VIA) Toolkit

A digital resource supporting learner and family participation in educational decision-making

Agency examples

The Agency has experience directly involving young people in exchanges with decision-makers responsible for developing and implementing policy for inclusive education. The following are some examples: 

  • Four European Hearings involving over 300 young people, held in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 

Key messages

The following key messages emerged from an internal review of past Agency practice. Though directed at Agency staff, these messages are relevant to anyone designing participatory approaches: 

  • Explore different ways to recruit learners and families, to minimise selection bias. 

  • Produce and share accessible preparatory information about the planned activities and ways of working. 

  • Explore different ways to participate, e.g. ensuring meetings take place at a time, in a place and in a language that enable all to take an active role. 

  • Allow learners to communicate about any aspect of their experiences they wish, even if that means straying from the pre-determined agenda. 

  • Ensure clarity and transparency on how learner and family views are incorporated into the activity outcomes. 

  • Collect feedback from participants in appropriate ways.

1. Consultation workshops with learners In European Hearings

The Agency organised four European Hearings aiming to elevate the voices of learners and promote their involvement in inclusive education policy debates. The 2003 and 2011 Hearings took place at the European Parliament in Brussels. In 2007, one was held at the Portuguese Parliament, in co-operation with the Portuguese Ministry of Education and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU. The fourth took place in 2015 in co-operation with the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU and the Luxembourg Ministry of Education, Children and Youth. 

In total, over 300 young delegates from across Europe with a range of learning needs participated in the Hearings, alongside national and European policy-makers and professionals. The Hearings included opportunities for young people to express their views on inclusive education in their educational settings, the main challenges faced and their ideas for improvement. 

At these events, the Agency provided interpretation and velotyping where possible. The Agency also worked to ensure travel options, hotels and meeting venues addressed individual needs.

During the 2015 Luxembourg Hearing, learners shared their views on their right to access education, to learn and participate in education and to achieve in society. Key insights from learners included the importance of barrier-free schools and raising awareness, changing attitudes and combating stereotypes to support long-term social inclusion for all. 

Two learners gave their impressions during a plenary session and in recorded interviews:

The Inclusive Education: Take Action! video summarises further key messages. 

A series of recommendations for policy-makers was presented to the Council of the EU during the ‘Education, Youth, Culture and Sport’ meeting in 2015. Overall, the Agency’s Hearings highlight the potential for including learner voices in high-level decision-making processes.

2. Listening to learners and families during the External Audit of the Icelandic System for Inclusive Education

In 2017, the Agency completed an external audit of the system for special needs and inclusive education in Iceland: Education for All in Iceland – External Audit of the Icelandic System for Inclusive Education. The audit consulted all school-level stakeholders, including learners and their families. The data collection phase included focus groups, school visits and online surveys. 

  • Selection of participants: Iceland’s Ministry of Education and Science involved school teams and support services contacts to identify and ‘recruit’ participants with and without special educational needs or disabilities. 

  • Adaptations: The online surveys were fully accessible. All respondents were asked the same questions, but language and concepts were adapted to the audience. Icelandic interpretation was available for focus groups. 

In the focus groups, learners discussed the ways in which school staff support them in their learning. Parents discussed their views on how well the country’s policies on inclusive education were implemented in practice. 

Focus group participants also had the opportunity to create ‘eco-maps’, visual representations of everyday life in school for teachers, caregivers and learners. The eco-maps showed relationships between stakeholders and the range of teaching approaches used in schools at different time intervals. Each eco-map asked a question that participants could answer with a word or phrase. The participants’ views were recorded and reported as for all other stakeholders who took part in the auditing work.

Two images showing examples of an eco-map for families, which asks the question: who have you talked to about your child's education in the last year, this school term, past month and past week? and an eco-map for learners, which asks the question: who has helped you with your school work during this school term, the past month, this week and today?

Examples of an eco-map for families (top) and an eco-map for learners (bottom).

3. Interviews with learners and families about Inclusive Early Childhood Education (IECE)

The Agency’s Inclusive Early Childhood Education (IECE) activity involved listening to the voices of learners and families. It aimed to identify, analyse and promote the main characteristics of quality IECE for all children from three years of age to the start of primary education. 

The activity included eight visits to kindergartens in different European countries, which involved interviewing learners and parents and observing classes. The discussions with learners focused on four areas of their experiences:

  1. Child’s experience and learning (i.e. What do you like to play with most? What new things are you learning in kindergarten? Are you afraid of anything in the kindergarten? Where do you feel most comfortable? Do you like to play outside or inside? Would you like to do anything else in kindergarten?) 

  1. Relationships with teachers and peers (i.e. Do your teachers help you to take part in the activities of your class? What do you like best about your teachers? Do you have friends in your class? What do you like to do together? Do you like playing on your own or with other children?) 

  1. Family engagement (i.e. Do your parents ever come to the kindergarten? Do they ever meet your teachers? Would you like your parents to come to the school more often? Do you tell your parents about what happens in kindergarten? What? Why? Why not?) 

  1. Evaluation and monitoring (i.e. Does the teacher sometimes ask you if you liked the activity or not? Do your parents like your school? If a boy or girl your age asked you if they should come to your school, would you tell them to come or not to come? Why?)

A similar structure was used for the interviews with the families:

  1. Child’s experience and learning from parent’s point of view (i.e. What do you like most about this kindergarten? What do you think your child is learning most from the kindergarten? Are you concerned about anything that your child experiences here?) 

  1. Relationships and collaboration among staff and between staff, child and parents (i.e. Are you happy with the relationship your child has with their teachers? With their peers? Would you like to be able to communicate with more staff about your child’s education? Have there been conflicts with staff? How are they resolved?) 

  1. Accessibility and family engagement (i.e. How do you communicate with teachers? Do you ever meet with them? When and how? How do you learn about the activities taking place in the school? Are you happy with your involvement in the kindergarten activities? Do you ever meet or communicate with other parents?) 

  1. Training of staff and parents (i.e. Does the school offer you any training on educating your child? Do you feel that the staff at the kindergarten have enough training to meet the needs of your children? What other training do you think would help them improve their support for you and your child?) 

  1. Evaluation and monitoring (i.e. Does the kindergarten ever inform you about how your child is developing, learning and participating in the kindergarten? Does the kindergarten ever ask you about how satisfied you are with your child’s learning and experience in the kindergarten?)

Agency participants observed how learners were enabled to make decisions in the classroom. This was reflected in the individual interactions with the children and the structural design of classes. In the last meeting, participants discussed which aspects of what they saw and heard during each visit accounted for best practice and which aspects could be improved. One of the main recommendations was that local IECE providers should be supported to pro-actively engage with learners and families and listen to their voices.

4. Learner and family views on the standards of the Czech education system

Within the framework of the EU Structural Reform Support Programme, the Agency provided technical support to the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT) to promote more inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for all learners in the Karlovarský and Ústecký regions of the Czech Republic (2019–2021). 

The stakeholder data collection focused on exploring various issues, including perceptions of the extent to which the agreed standards for the Czech education system were being met in practice. The data collection included three concrete activities implemented by the Agency in co-operation with the MŠMT and regional representatives: interviews, focus groups and a survey. These aimed to collect information from relevant regional and national-level stakeholders. Focus groups for learners and families included different stakeholder groups and covered the below questions.


  • What does inclusive education mean to you? 

  • Do you feel there is effective and supportive communication and interaction between families, schools, services and local authorities? 

  • How do you feel about your contact with schools, support services and local authorities regarding your learning/or the learning of your child? 

  • If you could change one thing in the Czech education system that you think would help most in reducing disparities or developing inclusive education, what would it be and why?


  • What do teachers do to make you feel part of the class group? 

  • What do teachers do to make you learn more easily? 

  • If there is a problem, do you feel it helps when your parents talk to people in the school? 

  • If you could change one thing about learning that would help all children to have an equal chance to learn, what would that be? And why? 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the stakeholder data collection took place virtually. Access to technology affected stakeholders’ ability to participate in virtual meetings. 

The findings from the online stakeholder data collection informed a report presenting the evidence, strengths and challenges of implementing measures to promote more inclusive and equitable learning opportunities in the Czech Republic. 

Feedback to the MŠMT included learners’ and families’ perspectives. The Agency presented recommendations for promoting inclusive and equitable education in the Final Recommendations and Proposed Priority Action report. Two of the final recommendations were: 

Recommendation 11. National, regional and school-level policies and action plans for inclusive education at all levels must be aligned and coherent in their aim to support the active participation and engagement of all learners and their families in order to maximise individual learning opportunities. 

Recommendation 12. At all system levels, policy must outline strategies to increase the voices of learners (in line with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and their parents/families.