We all know that it is important to give pupils a voice and to include them in educational research. However, when we as adults carry out the research, we set our own agendas and may not ask the questions that pupils want answered. Professor Mary Kellett, who pioneered child-led research, believes that:
“…the key to a better understanding of children and childhood is children themselves – as active researchers. Children ask different questions, have different priorities and concerns and see the world through different eyes.” (Kellett, 2005: p3)
Various researchers have extolled the benefits for pupils of conducting research which include greater awareness of their rights, increased confidence, motivation, literacy skills, criticality, data analysis and leadership skills (Child to Child, 2016 and Kellet, 2005).
Pupils may be more honest with their peers than with adults and they may be more likely to take the results of research seriously when it has been conducted by people their age. When adults conduct research on children there is always a power imbalance and the risk that pupils will just say what they think the adult wants to hear (Kellett, 2005).
With this in mind, I am trialling a child-led research project at Canons High School. The trial group is the student government, made up of a selection of children from Years 7-11. Sixteen children have chosen to take part and they have split themselves into seven groups. I started by teaching them about various aspects of research (based largely on Kellett, 2005) including criticality, ethics, the components of a research paper and data collection.
The students then discussed in their groups what their broad areas of interest are in school and then narrowed this down to specific areas of interest, what they wanted to find out and finally what questions they would like to ask. The questions that they have chosen are as follows:
- Why do pupils misbehave in lessons?
- Does the welfare room look after pupils’ health properly?
- What techniques do teachers use to help pupils learn?
- Is homework effective?
- Are tests effective to determine students’ achievement?
- Effectiveness of homework and interventions
- Does the teacher’s gender affect subject choices that students make?
The groups have begun to plan how they will carry out the research and some teachers have been approached to participate. When they have identified any pupils that they would like to recruit to take part in the research, I will help them construct permission letters for parents. We are still in the planning stage but hope to start conducting the research soon. Later on in the year, I will have a second teaching session with them about data analysis and dissemination. The aim is for them to share their findings in a way that they choose – perhaps by producing a video or by presenting to a selected groups of teachers. At this point, I am mostly interested in the process and whether it would be feasible to conduct pupil-led research on a larger scale at Canons High School.
Child to Child (2016). Participation matters! [online] Available at: <http://www.childtochild.org.uk/child-participation/participation-matters/> [Accessed 8 September 2016.]
Kellett, M. (2005). How to develop children as researchers: A step-by-step guide to teaching the research process. London: Paul Chapman.