Pupils want more say over the courses their schools run, how school budgets are spent and the teachers that are recruited, a new report reveals.
Students also suggest that the school environment – as well as pupil wellbeing - could be improved if every child was given a plant to nurture and tend.
“Each kid gets a plant on their desk,” commented one pupil in the research. “It is their responsibility to water it. They will feel better.”
The new report is based on comments made by 45 three- to 18-year-olds who took part in the Scottish government’s Learner Panel, which was designed to give pupils a platform to identify strengths and weaknesses in the Scottish education system.
According to the report, pupils want to be consulted on “meaningful” topics, including budget decisions and – at secondary in particular – curriculum design.
The panel members, who met during a series of workshops from October to February, revealed their frustration that secondary timetabling methods can mean that if they want to take more than one of a similar type of subject it is not possible because they clash.
The pupils call for greater recognition of "wider achievement", as well as life skills classes to “better prepare them for life after school”, more outdoor learning and more continuous assessment.
The report states: “Secondary school learners discussed the hindrance of the ‘column strategy’– where subjects were only available at limited times during a school week – which can discourage or prevent learners from taking ‘similar’ subjects even if they are passionate about them because of how they are taught in the same column time slots.”
It adds: “Secondary school learners noted the increase in stress around exam time and felt the effort that is put in throughout the year sometimes isn’t reflected in end-of-year assignment grades.”
However, according to the report, “one of the most widely discussed topics” among panel members was their relationships with their teachers, which was of “central importance”
“Learners believe teachers are at the heart of everything they learn and have a monumental impact on their progress and development,” the report said.
The pupils’ descriptions of their ideal teacher centred around them having “a positive attitude and creating an environment where the students feel comfortable and included”.
Students wanted more time and space to build stronger relationships with their teachers, who “most cited” as being “a great source of academic and sometimes emotional support, even if this wasn’t a prescribed part of their role”.
The report adds: “They also fed back the importance of having enough teachers to build consistent relationships with classes and learners, avoiding over-reliance on substitute teachers, which can be disruptive.”
A few pupils highlighted their dislike of teachers who had favourites or who held “grudges”.
They concluded that strong curriculum knowledge needed to be embedded in teacher professional learning but “not as the only priority”, and that the learning should also have a focus “on the skills needed to encourage and develop supportive, respectful and impactful relationships”.
The pupils involved got the chance to speak to key players in Scottish education, including education secretary John Swinney; Scotland’s chief inspector, Gayle Gorman; and Janet Brown, then chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Mr Swinney said: “The Scottish Learner Panel is an important step forward in ensuring the experiences of children and young people are formally incorporated into the decision and policy-making process.
“I am grateful to all the young people who took part in the first year of the panel for their contribution. I welcome the report’s suggestions on greater opportunities for outdoor learning, more guidance on subject choices at an earlier age, and increased awareness of available support for mental health and wellbeing.“