A Review of “Student Perspectives on School Improvement”

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of “Student Perspectives on School Improvement,” by J. Beresford. A paper presented in 2000 at the British Educational Research Association Conference, Cardiff University, Sep. 7-10.

Student Perspectives traces the development of a survey that measures students’ ideas and concerns about particular learning activities in schools. Each activity is explored, combining a review of the literature and findings from empirical research from the survey.

The purpose of the survey was to:

  1. Develop a ‘user-friendly’ instrument to find out the views of students on the classrooms where they learned.
  2. Record students’ views on how schools were run.
  3. Testify to the validity of the student voice in providing information on how schools can improve.

The researcher explored six primary classroom ‘conditions’ that were contended to improve student learning:

  • Self-assessment
  • Independent learning
  • Affinity to teachers
  • Learning repertoire
  • Orientation to learning
  • Adjustment to school

Using data from 6,000 high school-age students in 40 schools across the United Kingdom, combined with a comprehensive literature review, the study presented 24 statements relating to specific teaching activities that are associated with the above classroom conditions. Next, these results were compared to previous studies that measured teachers’ perceptions of the same items.

Findings include:

  • Control is important to students, who frequently cite school attendance, good behavior and finding classroom equipment as primary examples of the things they control in school.
  • Students do not often reflect on school, and feel uncomfortable seeking help from teachers. In the absence of these key components students will find it difficult to assess with any accuracy how well they are doing, and how they can improve.
  • Teachers often have a limited teaching repertoire, and students find many lessons uninteresting and easy to disengage from.
  • Despite this, students generally show positive attitudes toward schoolwork and positive behavior.
  • In the seventh grade, students are generally enthusiastic about their schools. They take greatest care about what they report to parents, they find teachers more helpful than other years, they are extremely enthusiastic about their lessons, claim to work harder than other years and are happier with school rules.
  • Eighth grade boys seem most discontented with school. They appear to be the group least able to self-assess, the group with poorest relationships with teachers, and the group whose self-perception of their own behavior is poorest.
  • Of the girls, tenth graders seem the most discontented. They are the least reflective of their courses, they have the poorest relationships with their teachers and they have most complaints about school rules. Boys show similar traits in eleventh grade.

“Student Perspectives” suggests that the findings derived from the survey provide a useful focus for the dialogue between teachers and students, which is a critical factor in improving students’ learning.

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