Press Release – Big difference between pupil and teacher perceptions of teaching revealed

13 September 2016

Fewer than half of young secondary school pupils think their views are taken seriously by those educating them, a major new study has found. Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost all of their teachers disagree.

These are central findings of a survey of 12- and 13-year-olds and their teachers at schools in Wales, analysed by Dr Kevin Smith of Cardiff University and being presented to BERA today.

In the survey of 407 Year 8 pupils and 215 teachers in 13 schools, only 42 per cent of the young people said their views were “listened to and taken seriously by school staff”, compared to 90 per cent of the teachers saying so.

That finding of a large divide between the views of teachers and those of many of their charges was supported by both groups’ responses to other questions, with seemingly serious educational implications.

The research found that only 43 per cent of the youngsters agreed with the statement “your school sets educational goals appropriate for each pupil,” compared to 92 per cent of the adults.

There was only a slightly smaller divide when the question posed was “the school staff have high expectations of me”, with 59 per cent of the young people agreeing as opposed to 95 per cent of the teachers.

The study also surveyed the same pupils two years later, when they were in Year 10, and found answers to the question “My views are listened to and taken seriously by school staff” were even less positive, with only 37 per cent of the Year 10s agreeing.

Dr Kevin Smith, who carried out the research, said that the fact that there was this seeming divide between teachers’ and pupils’ views, on matters important to young people’s learning, may not necessarily be the adults’ fault.

They may simply be trying their best to meet the pupils’ needs, but facing external constraints. This, he said, was the implication of many teachers’ responses to open-ended questions asked of them as part of the survey.

Dr Smith said: “The vast majority of teachers in our survey felt they were doing their best to meet pupils’ needs.

“However, they felt their teaching was undermined by too many changes in education policy in too little time, the increasingly bureaucratic nature of teaching stemming from an increased concern over ‘teacher accountability’, and the emphasis on pupil results in high-stakes exams.”

This latter issue, he said, meant that teachers often felt constrained in seeing pupils in any other terms than as future exam statistics. “The increasing use of high-stakes accountability – the notion that staff and pupils are judged by exam numbers – and the use of teacher-ready teaching materials means that there is less scope for interventions in the classroom which are personalised towards the individual student.”

Dr Smith’s work is focusing on the extent to which the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which promotes the right of young people to develop their “personalities, talents and abilities to the fullest” are being met in schools. Part of the problem, Dr Smith argues, is that the purpose of education is too often seen as developing successful future adults, rather than taking pupils’ current position as “humans and citizens now” more seriously. This view of young people as “future adults” is enshrined in at least two influential Welsh national curriculum documents, his research states.

Pupils, parents, teachers and policy-makers are not engaged in philosophical discussions about education often enough, he argues. And there are question marks over the degree of freedom pupils have in choosing GCSE options, while issues such as the specification of uniforms and allowed haircuts in schools, and the banning of mobile phones, also raise questions about how seriously pupil rights are taken by schools.

“With a focus to prepare pupils to live as active and productive citizens, rather than considering them as existing citizens with active rights who contribute to society in a myriad of ways, schools disempower young people,” argues Dr Smith’s paper.

However, the study did not provide entirely bad news for schools and teachers in Wales. Some 76 per cent of the pupils surveyed in Year 8, and 75 per cent of the same pupils in Year 10, agreed with the statement “My school cares about how much I improve my studies”, with only five per cent of Year 8s actively disagreeing, although this rose to 10 per cent among the Year 10s.

The number of young people agreeing with the statement “the school staff have high expectations of me” rose from 59 per cent in Year 8 to 68 per cent in Year 10. And 76 per cent of Year 8s, rising to 83 per cent of those in Year 10, agreed that “Overall, I make a good effort in class”

“My School and Me: Pupils’ perceptions of school and their rights as children” is

being presented to BERA by Dr Kevin Smith of Cardiff University on Tuesday, September 13th.

Further information from:

Warwick Mansell

BERA annual conference press officer

07813 204245


Notes for editors:

1 The survey data was collected as part of a larger study of school education in Wales, carried out by the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD). This has involved surveying 1,500 pupils in primary and secondary schools across Wales, in four cohorts. WISERD was established in 2009 to draw together and build upon the existing expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods and methodologies at the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea.

2 The Year 8 pupil data mentioned in this press release was collected in 2013, with researchers then surveying 343 of the same pupils in Year 10, in 2015, to see whether their views had changed as they got older.

3 The annual conference of the British Educational Research Association is being held at the University of Leeds from Tuesday, September 13th to Thursday, September 15th. More than 500 research papers will be presented during the course of the conference.

About BERA

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) is a member-led charity which exists to encourage educational research and its application for the improvement of practice and public benefit.

We strive to ensure the best quality evidence from educational research informs policy makers, practitioners and the general public and contributes to economic prosperity, cultural understanding, social cohesion and personal flourishing.