Student participation at school is receiving heightened attention through international evidence connecting it to a range of benefits including student learning, engagement, citizenship and wellbeing, as well as to overall school improvement. Yet the notion of student participation remains an ambiguous concept, and one that challenges many deeply entrenched norms of traditional schooling. Informed by understandings of ‘participation’ linked to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, this article takes the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) as a case study to explore how student participation is currently articulated in educational policy. It reports the findings of an analysis of 142 state and federal government policy-related documents, along with qualitative interview data from nine policy personnel. The findings suggest that students are conceptualised within these policies in contradictory ways, interpretations of participation are diverse yet frequently instrumentalist, and there is little conceptual coherence across the educational policy landscape in NSW in relation to ‘student participation’. The findings are discussed in light of international interest around student participation. The analytical framework used in this analysis is proposed as a possible tool for critically examining the place and purpose of student participation at school, regardless of jurisdiction. Abbrevations: NSW = the Australian state of New South Wales; UNCRC = United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; SRC = Student Representative Council.