Academics ‘should consult children first’ over education research studies

Allow studies in schools only if pupils see the benefit, guide says

School pupils should take part in academic research only if they are told what it is for and can see how it will benefit their own education, according to a new guide.

Students should also get written feedback about whether a study is successful, and research in schools should be motivated by a desire to help improve society, the document says.

In recent years, schools have told TES Scotland of their disappointment with studies they had been involved in because they felt the final reports reflected badly on their pupils – even when they had been anonymised.

One school was unhappy that a study about vulnerable children caught up in gang culture concluded that pupils had a negative view of staff. This did not match reality, they said, and they believed that the researcher had relied on leading questions.

In response, researchers at Newcastle University working with S4 (Year 11) pupils from Shawlands Academy in Glasgow have compiled a guide to good practice, entitled Get Your Facts Right. The guide will be introduced in schools across Glasgow.

Peter Hopkins, professor of social geography at the university and a former Shawlands pupil, said: “Discussions about research involving young people frequently take place directly between school senior management and researchers, often without any consultation with the students about whether or not they would be interested. This new protocol places young people at the centre.”

Shawlands Academy is frequently approached by social researchers as the school is in a diverse area of Glasgow. It is hoped that the guide will help pupils and teachers decide whether or not to participate in a study.

As part of their work to help produce the guide, S4 pupils visited Newcastle University to learn more about the research process, then made a presentation to Glasgow City Council officials about how to involve schools and pupils.

The group of S4 students is also sharing what it learned directly with younger pupils.

Megan Adcock, 15, said: “I felt that our work on research was really worthwhile – it means we have a real say in the research in our school and how it is carried out.”

The guide states that research should be “directly relevant” to pupils, should “make a difference” and should be “exciting not boring”.

The document also underlines the importance of keeping pupils informed about findings and their implications. One pupil said: “If we don’t get feedback, there’s no point.”

Depute headteacher Cath Sinclair said the work between the school and the university was built on allowing students to have “more than just a voice about research in schools and to actually steer the project from inception to outcome”.

Dr Michele McClung, support services manager for education services at Glasgow City Council, said: “Understanding more about the areas young people want to be researched on, and listening to their views…delivers a better outcome for everyone.”

She added: “We are very pleased with this new research protocol, and hope that, in time, schools in other parts of Scotland will use it.”

This article is from the 16 October edition of TESS available on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick the magazine up at all good newsagents

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