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Children breachivory towers

A learned journal is set to publish work of researchers from the Year 5 class of an Oxfordshire primary, reports Diane Hofkins

Three Oxfordshire 10-year-olds look likely to become Britain's youngest researchers to have their work published in an academic journal.

After a "peer review" by university dons, a paper by Simon Ward and another by Ruth Forrest, Naomi Dent and their supervisor Dr Mary Kellett of the Open University is being revised for publication in a future issue of Children and Society.

The pupils did their research while in Year 5 at Dunmore county junior school in Abingdon.

Two studies by the children will constitute the main part of the article, and an introduction by Dr Kellett will explain the rationale of her project on "Empowering 10-year-olds as active researchers".

Simon, Naomi and Ruth, now in Year 6, were among seven able Dunmore pupils who took part in the first phase of the children-as-researchers project.

The result, says Dr Kellett, should help to provide "a window on their worlds".

The work was carried out at a lunchtime research club, with the children meeting over sandwiches every Friday for two terms.

Naomi and Ruth investigated "How are children affected by the nature of their parents' work?" while Simon studied "the social nature of TV viewing in nine and 10-year-olds". Gender differences in using computers were analysed by another pair.

Dr Kellett believes that children's choice of topic and their insights provide valuable information for educationists, as well as giving them a voice and enhancing their thinking skills. "We constantly underestimate children," she said.

When all seven children presented their findings at Westminster institute of education's annual research in practice conference in Oxford last summer, they received tumultuous applause, amid mutterings that their work was clearer than that of some postgraduate students.

The experience was "quite scary", said Ruth, but she and Naomi were amazed to see that the audience was actually interested in their research. People came up to them to say congratulations.

Coral Milburn-Curtis, Dunmore's headteacher, says the project has been valuable and that such work should continue. "We are significantly held back by the emphasis on jumping through hoops," she said. "This has given us an insight into the kinds of activities these children should be involved in."

The second phase spread the project to five schools in Bicester, where pupils are currently wrapping up their work. The big push will come in January 2004, with the opening of a children's research centre at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes.

Dr Kellett believes children of all abilities can become researchers, and hopes the centre will reach out to schools.

Dr Martin Woodhead of the Open University, co-editor of Children and Society, said this could be the first time a refereed scholarly journal published a paper co-authored by 10-year-olds. However, there will be a long delay. Once formally accepted, the article could wait up to a year to be published.

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