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Pupil voice? It's bad for discipline

Giving pupils a say in how they are taught leads to misbehaviour, claim researchers, but sensitive teachers get good results

Listening to pupils and giving them the opportunity to offer views on their education increases the likelihood that they will misbehave.

Research carried out by the Effective Pre-school and Primary Education (Eppe) project reveals that children whose views were listened to in school were more likely to be hyperactive or antisocial.

The researchers spoke to 1,160 pupils between the ages of 6 and 10, drawn from 125 primaries across England. They examined the ways in which school and teachers influenced the academic and behavioural development of these pupils.

The report found that teaching quality significantly influenced pupils' academic progress but did not have a similar impact on behaviour. And methods traditionally believed to help improve behaviour did not necessarily have this effect. For example, many teachers expect that listening to and accommodating pupils' views will have a positive effect on their conduct.

Instead the research found that children were more likely to be hyperactive and antisocial in schools where their views were listened to.

The researchers said: "Some moderate amount of involvement and autonomy may be optimum. Beyond a certain point, children at this age may not respond well to high levels of autonomy because such strategies may adversely affect the disciplinary climate."

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, is surprised by the findings. "Most of us feel that schools that involve pupils are less likely to have disruptive behaviour," he said. "But you could overdo it. It's sensible to involve pupils, but within limits."

The researchers found that behaviour was likely to improve when teachers were sensitive, positive and actively involved in pupils' achievement. When teachers worked closely with parents, children were also more likely to behave better.

Children's behavioural progress was clearly linked to their level of disadvantage. Schools where a high percentage of children were eligible for free school meals were more likely to have hyperactive or antisocial pupils, as well as to underachieve academically.

The report also pointed out that schools that have been judged effective by Ofsted inspectors are more likely to provide longer-term benefits for pupils' behaviour, as well as their academic achievements.

The researchers concluded: "Schools matter. Even when the powerful influences of child, family and home are controlled, going to a `better' primary school exerts a positive net influence on children's academic progress and also on social and behavioural outcomes."

Classroom conflict, page 30.

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