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Valuing primary students' perspectives

Bob Jeffrey

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lille, 5-8 September 2001

Please do not quote without permission

Bob Jeffrey
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
England
MK7 6AA

r.a.jeffrey@open.ac.uk

 

Introduction

Research on primary student perspectives has focused on student's attitudes, dispositions to and evaluations of school and classroom conditions of learning, relationships with teachers, and agency, that incorporates student's classroom and learning strategies . Research into primary student's: identity development and school "career" ; the assessment of primary students ; critical events ; creative teaching ; creative learning [Jeffrey, 2000 #212]; comparative cultural research ; racism and sectarianism ; children and work [Hutchins, ???? #303], mixed ability grouping bi-lingualism and creativity , have also incorporated student perspectives.

These research studies show the knowledge primary school students have of educational processes and the competence with which they engage in discussion of these processes and their implementation. However, a series of reforms in English education over the last ten years together with an increasing public focus on schools via the media have affected primary school cultures, policies and processes. Recent reforms of primary education have included, the introduction of a National Curriculum, a national, externally constructed assessment programme, regular national inspections by the Office for standards in Education (Ofsted), and prescribed literacy and numeracy programmes. Added to these structural innovations, a performativity discourse has pervaded primary schools. Its main influence has been to force schools to 'market' themselves and to ensure that they strive to achieve continual improvement in the schools' achievements in national Standardised Assessment Tasks (SATs), on which the construction of published 'league tables' are based. Ofsted is a form of 'audit accountability', whose findings are also published and add to pressure on schools to appear to be publicly successful.

The extent to which primary school students have understood and reacted to these events is the subject of this paper. The sample is 30 year five and six (aged 9 and 10) bilingual, mainly Bangladeshi students from three classes attending an inner-city primary school . The school is considered to be a deprived school that works well with the local community and prioritises creative curriculum experiences and pedagogies. Ethnographic research was carried out over a year and educational experiences included in the research programme were the national curriculum, the literacy and maths prescribed hours, an Ofsted inspection, a school journey, special events and the annual year 6 SATs examinations. Classroom observations, field notes, discussions with teachers and with school students constituted the site's data collection. Conversations were tape-recorded and have been transcribed. Both teachers and schools students were assured that every effort would be made to ensure that the conversations would be confidential and unattributable. The data used in this paper relies solely on the students' conversations with the researcher, usually in groups of four, at least three times during the year. The researcher used photographs of classroom and school activities as a stimulus for conversation and to encourage discussion and argument, if appropriate, within the group.

We found that these primary students:

They were informed participants, observers and interpreters, issue developers, advisors and strategists. Student experience of inspection, national assessments and national curriculum studies are the contexts in which these findings were generated.

 

Informed participants

Research with secondary students suggested that inexperience restricts them from perceiving the curriculum as a whole. They are likened to the working sailors, who on a voyage of discovery, only concern themselves with day-to-day living. It is only the ship's captain and navigator - policy makers and teachers - who have a picture of their position and route on a map . However, we found our students to be very informed about the current purposes and processes of education and schools. They understood the role of inspections within a market discourse, their role in the school's corporate culture, the administrative processes of an inspection, the role of SATs in terms of career, selection, teacher grading and policy derivations and they engaged with learning theories.

Inspections and the market discourse

They understand the role of national inspections within a performativity and market discourse, 'If the report said that behaviour was good and we were good at listening then people would want to come to school because we give a good education' (Reenha).

They felt themselves to part of the corporate culture of the school, 'I felt responsible because I was year six and I should know things and behave properly. They were really looking at year six and our behaviour, presentation and our work (Reenha). The students understood that SATs results and 'market' position are closely related, 'if I get lower marks I would be letting the school down because the teachers are supporting us in our work and if we get lower marks than other schools, we would feel embarrassed' (Lutfa). They understood the supportive role of team work in a corporate culture , and the consequences of failure, 'It is hard for teachers to teach us such a lot and they spend a lot of time doing it. If we don't get level four it looks like the teachers have not worked hard enough (Babul).

The administrative process of inspections was understood as was the hierarchical and supervisory role of the inspectorate, 'I would not like to be in inspector because I would not like to have to tell the truth about children to other people. They have to tell the truth, (Nipa).

The Role of SATs

They understand the role of SATs in terms of: career, 'to help you get a good job' (Shuheema); assessment, 'They test what you have learnt in the last few years' (Parvin); selection, 'it's for your teachers to know what level you are, what stage to put you when you go to secondary school' (Mehidi); teacher grading, 'If we get good marks then they think our teacher is good' (Shuheema) and policy derivations, 'the law uses them, the government says everyone has to do them', (Bodrun).

They had an understanding of SATs usefulness: for learning practices, 'they help show what I know and also they show what I do not know so I can improve (Parvin); achievement, 'If you get a good grade people might think you are clever' (Bodrun) and for status, 'So we can be clever and everyone might respect us when we grow up' (Raju). Respect was conceived of as a desirable value alongside knowledge of the remuneration to be gained from working hard, 'I am not going to work just for money. I want to have a good name', (Shameena). The Pollard et al research only identified the summative aspects of assessments as prevalent in student perspectives, but these student's enhanced experience of SATs appears to have made them more aware of the formative role of assessment.

Knowledge of Learning Theories

Cleverness is understood as, 'your brain ticking' (Mehedi), 'that you are wise' (Shazia), 'that you know things' (Masun), that 'you can be clever at some things and not clever at others' (Mehedi) and that 'you can be clever and not have to work hard' (Shazia). They appreciated the satisfaction to be gained from: being in control of learning, 'I learnt how to make yoghurt. I have never planned things like that in my life. I learnt that I have to think about it' (Nipa); empirical experimentation, 'I thought that if you put food colouring in it would change the flavour but it didn't' (Shazia); investigating variables, 'I learnt that taste is not everything and that you have to think about colour, texture and how the package looks' (Farida); decision making, 'I was unsure whether putting chocolate in would make it taste good or not. I learnt that you have to experiment' (Parvin).

The positive features of collaborative work were also understood,

In our team we had to talk together and get ideas from each other. You had to know who was going to do each job. We then shared the jobs out in our team. It was enjoyable lifting the wood and collecting the leaves and getting mud on your hands. We learnt team work.

However, like teachers caught up in the new 'team' work corporate culture they were also aware of some of the disadvantages of team competition,

It was a challenge to see which team could get the most mud and cover their shelter. However if one team wins the other teams might be quite depressed because they tried hard and didn't win. We like challenges where it is 'win win' because everybody tries.

They were able to differentiate between different qualities of learning experiences, 'I don't like doing comprehension where you have to go back and find the answer. In story writing you can make things up. You can write whatever you like. When doing comprehension you have to write what it says' (Ishatt). They may not have known of the concept of status passage but they experienced and generalised it in their own terms,

The school journey was a challenge. It was a big step for us, like leaving a family and we were brave to do it. It taught us how to do it when we have to leave home. It taught us braveness.

 

Observers and interpreters

Whilst being subject to the culture of classrooms, primary school students observe and interpret behaviours and events. They use their experience of life outside school and their school experiences to interpret situations meaningfully for them as students and individuals. In more formal contexts primary school students observations and interpretations have been used to carry out specific research tasks, . They recorded observations and interpretations of climates and atmospheres, social relations and subjectivity.

Climate and atmosphere

The climate and atmosphere of a classroom determines relations, strategies and processes and although it may appear that students adapt to the disposition of the teachers climates and atmospheres are also a matter of continual negotiation between teachers and students. .

During the inspection the students identified changes in atmospheres by noting changes in teacher disposition,

I think the teachers were nervous. They also seemed to be everywhere. I think they were worrying about how they class was going to be. You could tell by the look on her face (Ruehanara).

The teachers 'did not want anything to go wrong. Everyone was acting differently' (Shaheema). Even when teachers managed to maintain their normal disposition students discerned the extra pressure placed upon them,

Our teacher didn't give any impression of being nervous. You couldn't tell by looking at her face. She was acting normally. She told people off if they were naughty on the carpet. However, I could tell by the end of the day she was relieved, especially at the end of the week. (Mobin)

As well observing and interpreting climates the student's were reflective, 'It is very quiet when we do SATs work and you can concentrate. I am not sure why I like this activity but I like concentrating a lot' (Nazma). These reflections are also evaluative, 'I panicked and I put down things that didn't make sense. I was too nervous. My head was not straight' (Shereena). Evaluations were also qualitative,

The lesson was fine and exciting because I like a lot of noises in the classroom. When it is quiet it is dull and boring. When it's noisy it's like a funfair going on in our class. When it's like this I really get into things. It's really fun, hearing their laughing and listening to their talk. I liked walking around the classroom getting them to taste my yoghurt. I really liked it because it was noisy and fun.

Social relations

Personal interaction is valued more by primary schools students than qualities related to teaching and learning , although this is not necessarily the case in different cultures, for example French elementary schools . Students manage relationships with teachers, becoming knowledgeable about teacher disposition and adjust their behaviour accordingly . They

demonstrate strategic sophistication and acumen when seeking to maximise their own interests. Teachers can be outmanoeuvred, and the stability and order they strive to create in their classrooms is always a precarious one subject to change as the nature of interactions between people change. p. 95)

The students were capable of analysing interactions, appreciating qualitative interactions and awareness of micro politics.

The inspector thought we were laughing at her but we were not. We were laughing at a word a boy had used in his writing. When she had told the teacher she looked at us and I looked at her and she looked away. That's how I knew she had told the teacher. (Rheena)

They used their understanding of gestures to assess outcomes 'During a news session on the carpet we were all talking at once about the cyclone in India and somebody also started hiccuping. The inspector who was there looked very angry. He wrote things down and frowned while he was doing it' (Nadia).

Trust relations figured highly 'We know the class teachers and we know how they work, but we don't know what the inspectors might do. We don't know whether they might write bad comments or good comments in their notebooks' (Shaheema). An unjustified critical comment is not easily forgiven 'When I was making slippers our teacher said that I had not put enough effort into it. But I thought I had worked hard. Afterwards she said she was joking. But I still didn't like it (Farida). The quality of day to day exchanges affects self esteem amongst English primary school students

The respect of their peers also mattered to them, particularly where teachers differentiated a group of them by excluding from taking part in SATs revision, 'The other children might be saying something to their friends. They might whisper that we can't do it, that we are babies' (Shaheeda). They were aware of the consequences for social relations resulting from being assigned a social identity based on test achievements, 'my brother and sisters and cousins tease me because they are competing with me. In the London reading test I got higher than them which is why they are jealous (Wahidua). Those who were identified as being 'clever' were also concerned 'I want to be just like the other people. I can't help getting the words right', (Mehedi). The peer culture that in English schools downgrades cleverness and test achievement , also values social relations not based on test achievement.

Subjectivity

In a summary of research literature in their edited collection Pollard et al conclude that young children value:

These students observations of their teaching and learning contexts reflected these research findings. They were expressive, emotional, empathetic and self reflective.

Learning preferences were communicated expressively.

I love school because we do fun activities. This time I had a chance to do something on my own. When I am at home my mum is always there to help me and I don't like that. I liked making the yoghurt because chocolate was included and I love chocolate. (Nadia)

Teacher emotions are considered to be an important factor in teacher training, development and practice because they effect teachers' commitment, interest and personal welfare. Emotions are also significant to student's connections to learning contexts .

One of the inspectors came to look at my work on Romeo and Juliet in literacy. My heart was beating very fast. I didn't understand her and then she repeated her question again because I did not say anything. I was not ready to answer her question. I did understand the second time but I was lost for words. I needed to be relaxed. She asked if I understood the work I was doing and what happened if I made a mistake and I didn't have a rubber. She asked me if 'I would sit there all day and do nothing about it'. I didn't answer her because I did not know what to say (Raheena)

Teachers suffered from anxiety during an inspection and so did students 'I had to read to an inspector and was so scared that I might make a mistake I thought she might ask me to spell a word without looking at it' (Nadia). This was in spite of being told that 'they had come to look at the teachers. They were trying to find out if the teachers were teaching well or badly and whether they were teaching the children what they are supposed to be taught, suitable things' (Nipa).

Anxiety, in one student's case led to subterfuge and increasing anxiety,

People sometimes don't come to school because they know they will get a lower mark. Sometimes you get scared and you pretend that you are ill. When we did a science test I did that once. Will you tell the teacher that?' (Kumol).

Feelings of humiliation, 'Yes. I was very upset. If you have the lowest mark in your class you feel very ashamed. You feel alone. Sometimes people laugh at you' (Kumol) and hopelessness were subjective reactions,

I think I'm going to get low marks in my English and my family is going to say "I am useless and I don't learn anything". It's upsetting because I really try hard (Wahidua).

Anxiety was not diminished by knowledge of reality, 'I worry that I will get low marks and my family will be angry. I know they won't really but I still think that (Shumeena). Students feel the effect of praise for a high achiever, 'I was happy for her but at the same time I thought I could have done better' (Lutfa), 'You think you haven't done as well as you could' (Nazma), 'I thought we were the odd ones out' (Masun), 'I thought I didn't revise properly at home' (Shazia). Students take responsibility for their own performance (Rudduck et al 1996, Pollard and Triggs 2000),

One day I only got two marks for spelling and everybody said "you're dumb". I became very depressed with myself because I only got two right. I was angry with myself, not with the teacher for calling out the marks. (Eiman)

In spite of their anxieties some found time to empathise,

I don't like the hard part. When they are difficult questions and you can't do them. I worry about losing a mark and that I might get a lower level. A level is like the stage you are at. We are at level 4 and 5. The level 2 children must feel down and sad (Nazma).

They also acted to challenge negative emotions and to manage them through self examination and reflection , 'Sometimes when you get a low mark you know you are better than that. You know that you didn't try very hard. That happened to me once. I sort of knew I had not tried very hard so I was not that disappointed with the low mark' (Lutfa).

 

Issue developers

Involvement of young people's perspectives in evaluating the conditions of their lives can be seen in areas such as: disability, ; institutional care, ; youth disaffection and sexuality . Research has also focused on discussion and debate by young people of specific issues such as racism , sectarianism , gendered stereotyping , work at home and school, [Hutchins, ???? #303] and classroom ethos . This research showed the students identifying moral, performativity, learning theory and pedagogical issues.

Moral Issues

Moral issues were raised, if a little imaginatively, 'I would not like to be an inspector because if you have to put someone in jail you would be very sad, (Nadia). They drew on humanist values in their observations, 'I would not like to be an inspector and go and tell the teacher about the children because the children would not like me. They would think I looked on their bad side' (Shameena). Issues of injustice and fairness figure highly in English school student's priorities.

In the literacy hour we were playing snakes and ladders but we didn't really know how to play it. The inspector told our teacher that it was a nightmare and we were arguing. But we were trying. I was shocked because I thought the inspectors were going to be helpful and kind. (Ruehanara)

Performativity issues

Performativity issues relating to possible student failure and corporate relations were prominent,

The thing that frightens me is that you do not know what paper you're going to get. If I don't understand it and cannot do it I will get lower marks than other people. Then I will feel I have let myself and everyone else down. It means that other people will have understood something and it feels like I have done something wrong if I get lower marks. I would be letting the school down, (Lutfa).

Inconsistent performance was a worrying issue, 'I got 17 out of 28 for maths and one of the children said 'you were so good before the holiday and now you're no good'. I felt sad and upset (Shumeena).

Relationship issues resulted from performativity practices .

What do you feel when the teacher says this child is clever and has got lots of good marks? (Researcher),

I feel upset with the teacher when she doesn't tell us that we have worked hard, (Aklima). I feel they are better than us. I am angry with myself for not doing as well as she did and angry with the other person because they got good marks (Shumeena).

Teacher assessment was not seen as a solution but an issue, 'The problem with that is that, if you are the teacher's pet, you get higher marks' (Shumeena). They anticipated problems with proposals to amend time allowances for SATs, 'I would give extra marks for those who did it quickly but allow lots of time for all of us, (Shereena). The problem with that is that it might encourage some of us to rush it, (Parvin).

Exception from the SATs revision process was, perhaps surprisingly, not perceived of as a benefit.

I wanted to do them all especially the maths. But in some ways I didn't want to do them because they are too hard, (Farheena). You don't understand. We want to do them but we want to understand them so we can do them, (Rogina). So we can be brave and good, (Shaheeda).

Learning Theory Issues

The relationship between cleverness and hard work was explored as an issue.

'If you're a clever person do you have to work hard to get to a level?' (researcher)

'Yes, no, yes, no' (group of four). 'If they are really clever they don't have to go to school' (Shumeena), 'Kusheeda is clever but she still works hard',(Aklima), 'She gets the most help from the teachers' (Wahidua)

The ability to express uncertainty was part of their reflectivity,

Can you get a level six by not working hard? (researcher),

I'm not sure about that question, (Shazia).

Valuing improvement was another solution to the issue,

'If people at level 2 tried hard they might not get a level six but at least they tried. They might have tried their best. (Mehedi). 'If you work hard day and night you would improve but you might not get a level six', (Masun). 'If you get used to the tests you can get a better mark' (Mehedi). I improved on my writing stories and. first I've got level 3 then I improved and got level four (Shazia).

Alternatively, an optimum level of ability was perceived of as another position to hold, 'Do you know someone who has worked hard but has not improved their level?' (Researcher) 'Yes, but it is a good level for her' (Kumol).

The relationship between achievement, effort and improvement are major issues at the highest level of education and of government policies. These primary school students are aware of them and capable and competent to engage in discussion of them.

Pedagogic Issues

Fundamental pedagogical questions were posed,

Sometimes and we are sitting on the carpet and we do not understand it. We make every effort to try and understand but sometimes teachers say we fidget too much and that is what stops us understanding. That is what I don't like about it. If I do not understand how can I answer the question. Then they say I didn't listen and tell me off. I don't like it because, if I don't understand, how can I answer the question? (Rheena).

Intensification of work was as much an issue as for students as for teachers .

We are always changing our work. We never have time to make our work good. We never get to read it out and tell people about our work or get people who tell us how good it is. (Reena)

I do not like it when I do not understand the work and there is no time for the teacher to explain it to me. Then I am told off for not understanding it. (Shaheema):

Pedagogic effectiveness is also an issue for school students, 'It was hard making notes in the interview with the cook because you had to write quickly and if you wrote messily you couldn't read it. It was hard to listen and write at the same time' (Asheema). Preferred learning practices have always been an issue in primary schools but recent pressure in schools to conform to more uniform pedagogies including the prescriptive literacy and numeracy hours , is highlighting the issue. 'I don't like staying on the carpet time when we know what to do, like when Joanne kept on asking us about the orientations of the story. I knew what they were and I just wanted to get on with it'. (Ishatt). Reactions to the increase in teacher led practices were sometimes decisive, 'I'd like to just get straight on to it and do things. I don't like the literacy hour on the carpet. I don't like answering questions. I would prefer to do comprehension than sit on the carpet', (Kibria). However, they were also reflective,

It is better learning by doing things because you learn by your mistakes and you can improve things than it is sitting on the carpet and listening to someone (Asheema), You use more of your own ideas when you're doing things, (Shameena), However you can generate ideas and ask questions on the carpet (Farida).

Primary school students are able to recognise and appreciate sophisticated pedagogic purposes that enhance control and ownership of learning , 'I like making things and being able to choose things. I liked the fact that we had to choose between the ingredients for the yoghurt without having have enough money to choose all of them' (Asheema). This observation raises the question of whether choice based on a series of dilemmas for learning would enhance learning and commitment. The opportunity for students to 'improve' specific learning experiences might also be considered an effective learning practice, 'I liked doing the design of a shelter and constructing it because I liked improving it, putting on more detail. We had a choice to do it the way we wanted to' (Ishatt).

 

Advisors and Strategists

Being informed observers who were able to generate issues means that primary students can be considered for the role of advisors and strategists. These students proposed that teaching and learning policies and procedures should be flexible and incorporate breadth and balance. They included justifications for their recommendations and showed how to act strategically.

Recommendations

It was suggested that SATs exams should be more flexible so that,

The children who can do it well should be able to do it on their own without the teacher. They should just be told briefly what to do and then get on with it. Those who are less confident should have teachers to help them more so that the others, who can do it won't get bored, (Farida).

Reasons were offered as to why some students might have problems and flexible solutions proposed 'It might be because their English is not good enough. It is not fair but teachers could help by reading the questions out', (Mehedi). Recommendations concerning flexible classroom climates were proposed, 'I think there should be quality noise in a classroom. When we were doing something like making the yoghurt it could be quite noisy, but when we are reading it needs to be quiet, so that we can concentrate, (Asheema), and it was proposed that the 'doing and sitting' issue was solved with more flexibility, 'I think I would prefer to do little bit on the carpet then have a little bit of doing and then come back to the carpet so that I remember each part easily' (Rheena).

They recommended that assessment policy and procedures should include a wide range of options. These included: the introduction of graded tests, 'Those people who didn't do well in the first test should be able to have another one that was easier for them' (Raju); streaming, 'I would have groups doing tests that are similar. Those that can to the hard tests would do them together and those that could only do the easier ones would do them together', (Raju); adjusting the test instrument, 'I would have tests with answers in, where they give you a clue, (Wahidua) and others proposed less testing and more effective assessment for learning 'You could put a everyone's ideas together and choose an answer. That would help everyone as well, it would help them to understand', (Shumeena). All these suggestions give legitimacy for widening assessment procedures, rather than narrowing them, to enhance teaching and learning experiences .

A modular approach to assessment rather than the end of year assessment policy was proposed to bring a better balance to learning and assessment. 'I would prefer to do project for week or some maths for a week and then have a test. You would do better this way because you knew the work' (Shereena). A balanced curriculum was preferred, 'I like tests and doing because tests get your brain to work and it is nice to do things like make slippers. It is fun and you get to relax, but I like my brain working too', Mehedi).

The students included justifications for their recommendations,

It is better to be in a group so you are not on your own and you can ask someone else, (Nazma). If you learn in mixed groups then when you grow up you are not silly learning with girls (Mehedi). It is good working on your own because when you get your SATs test you have to do it on your own. It is like a challenge to yourself to see how independent you can be, (Farida). The teacher should talk to you on your own about your marks. Sometimes they embarrass you front of everyone. You work so hard but sometimes you get the questions wrong and then people laugh at you, (Kumol).

Strategists

Primary school students, from the time they enter school, act strategically to serve their interests . This includes engaging actively in power relations with teachers , adapting to teacher disposition , challenging and resisting institutional processes , managing learning experiences and developing creative learning . The students in this research explained the benefits of strategic action.

They played the corporate and performativity game forthcoming)

'We work hard to make our teachers proud of us. So that teachers can say ' you have got the highest marks of the schools in our area'. So they can say we are the best group', (Kumol).

They were aware of the opprobrium that would result from poor performativity, 'All the children were really sensible because they wanted to show that our school was the best school. We wanted to get a better report and we were told that if we didn't get a good report we would get into the newspaper. (Shameena). Other reasons were more corporate, 'We behaved better to help us all. To make the inspectors realise that our teachers were the best, teaching us some manners. We really put effort into it. If they think that our teachers and a classes are good they think the school is good (Nipa). Some reasons were more altruistic, 'I think we behaved ourselves for our teachers' sake, to make them happy', (Fareena).

They showed how their strategic action was a considered one and appropriately applied.

One inspector came in the second day he was quite fun. She laughed and she came to our table. She did not seem as though she wanted to write too many bad things. She explained things patiently to me. She asked me what I thought of the school and I told her that it was OK and that a lot of exciting things happening here. She asked me what my teacher was like and then she asked me if I find some things difficult in the class. I told her my teacher was really lovely and fun to have. I told her she was quite patient. (But I wouldn't have told the inspector that my teacher was impatient), (Ruehanara).

Strategies for enhancing achievement levels were wide ranging.

You get a better grade by putting sentences together that make sense. Making sure the examiner can understand what you are writing. You should explain yourself properly on paper. (Mehedi), You have to revise very hard, (Masun). You go home and look at the books and then you close it and you try to remember it, (Mehedi). Take all the books home and look at each one for 10 minutes, (Shazia). When you first see a SATs paper you may be nervous and forget everything. If you remember to be confident and think about the facts you have been taught it will help you, (Nazma).

Assessment marks can be seen as positive and the students showed how they could be appropriated as self identifiers and self improvers,

'I love it when Tricia gives me back my marks. Then I tell other people what I got and they tell me their results and we can see how good we are. If someone gets more than me then I think I should work harder and become as good as them, (Shuheema), 'I like getting the marks because I can be clever and everyone in my house will respect me' (Raju), 'I like getting the marks because I like knowing where I have gone wrong so I can put it right. And then I can improve', (Parvin)

 

Conclusion

The identification of students as informed participants, reflective observers, issue developers, and strategists implies that students are interpreters of experience. In particular, their qualitative interpretations have surfaced in this research. Their lack of malice, their generosity, maturity and non- competitative approaches. Pollard et al that schools as well as teachers and pupils are embedded in a dynamic network of personal identity, values and understandings that are constantly developing in the light of internal and external interaction, pressure and constraint. The result is that policy directives are translated into classroom practice through a series of mediations, creative reinterpretations by the actors involved at each successive stage of a process of delivering education. If this perspective is accepted as valid then it is essential that the student is not conceived of as the 'developing child' for we may then assume that young children lack competencies needed to engage in the research process . The 'child' needs to be perceived of as a full participant and actor contributing and affecting the educational context ). The conceptual construction of the 'social child' becomes the appropriate theoretical frame for examining and working with student perspectives.

From a research validity perspective, it should also be recognised that primary school students perspectives will alter according to context. There is no authentic voice of the student just as there is no authentic voice of the adult. The issue of the authenticity of perspective is a central consideration of qualitative research methodology and research into student's perspectives should be dealt with in the same manner that other qualitative research is legitimised, through for example, 'researcher reflexivity' and triangulation . Nor should student opinions be regarded as the definitive basis for policy making . One possibility is to work at three levels of research on student perspectives: re-orientating the policy field to include student perspectives, acting on behalf of students and working with students in educational contexts .

Our research seems to show that the publicising of educational priorities and practices by the government over the last 12 years has resulted in more understanding by primary school students of education policy and its implications and practices. They also understand more fully the formative nature of assessment. They have always been observers, interpreters, and strategists. However, the market discourse is one dominated by the concept of the consumer and customer of education . Although there is some confusion about how far the customer is the student or the parent the discourse elevates the importance of the consumer in the identification of a quality education service. Although in practice this accountability is determined by test results and Ofsted inspections the principle of involving parents and students in determining what is a good education has been established. We would argue that this research legitimises the practice of involving primary school students in this process.

The quality of student's engagement in the educational process also needs considering. There is a strong argument for highlighting the pragmatic advantage of taking student perspectives into account in order to support school improvement is a vehicle for improving schools . The pragmatic approach further suggests that incorporating student perspectives into educational programmes enhances commitment to school programmes and can assist new goals such as 'learnacy' for lifelong learning . However, as research into the current performativity discourse shows, school improvement, commitment and 'learnancy' can be developed as an instrumental practice , and some of the data from this research also indicates this. An education policy that promotes a culture of diploma currency, 'a debtor and creditor principle of virtue', (Coleridge in may limit participants understanding and experience of education and will influence a more general social construction of what defines education. Decisions have to be made as to whether the participation of student perspectives into the educational process should be based purely on pragmatic terms or whether a moral or a 'critical' political perspective should be included. Pollard et al 'assert that ours is not a romantic argument, and nor do we choose to press the moral case which could be put', (op.cit. p.11).

The challenges to the inclusion of student perspectives in educational programmes includes: the consideration of alternative constructions of childhood; the legitimacy of student perspectives; the value attached to their perspectives and the limits of their influence. Pollard et al suggest that these challenges should also include a questioning of 'our readiness to hear pupil perspectives and to allow children a share of the sort of power we, as adults, have in their classrooms and lives' (p 11). However, primary teachers are themselves feeling constrained in their opportunities to exercise power due to the effects of reform. Perhaps teachers might consider not only sharing power but making alliances with students to open up the possibility of questioning current performativity practices and educational policy. This might prove productive for both teachers and students.

 

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 09 October 2001