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Crete in the sun - and full uniform

It is a story familiar to many teachers: barely has the school year started and pupils are skipping lessons to flit off to the beaches of a Greek island.

Most pupils, though, do not take their teacher with them.

A fortnight ago, Isabel Gilchrist, religious and moral education teacher at Stonelaw High in Rutherglen, accompanied three pupils as they bathed in term-time sunshine at a resort in Crete.

All four were presenting a paper on democratic approaches to learning at the European Conference on Educational Research. It is the first time in the conference's history that pupils have run one of its sessions.

Ms Gilchrist says that it would have been unthinkable to present research on school democracy while the voices of her pupils remained stifled in South Lanarkshire drizzle.

"I regard pupils as partners in research," she said. "If I am quoting their opinions, it has much more of an impact if people can hear and see the pupils themselves."

For the pupils, too, basking in the glow of presentation glory and Crete sunshine, the lack of pupil involvement is an indication of much that is wrong with educational research.

"Facts and figures are fine," 16-year-old Fern Campbell said. "But if you are talking about education and you want to get to the nitty-gritty, you need to listen to what pupils have to say."

Most pupils indulging in illicit beach holidays are unlikely to pack any reminders of school between the sunscreen and the sarongs. But the Stonelaw pupils rejected the shorts and T-shirt dress code of most delegates, in favour of full school uniform.

"It's our identity," Connie Pearce, 16, said. "We wanted people to know who we are."

"Some people were wary when they found out we were pupils," said Fern. "But some perked up. We're new and interesting, and we have got charisma."

In fact, the pupils added, the conference would have been far more effective if it had included more uniformed delegates. "Researchers think they are better than children, because they have more education," 15-year-old Heather Thomson said. "But we are the ones in school. There should be more pupils here than lecturers."

And, they insist, pupils gain from the experience. "We are mobilising people," Connie said. "They come in with one opinion and leave with another."

"It's our 15 minutes of fame," Fern said. "We are in Crete. We've gone global."

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