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Put the ball in the pupils' court

Ross Deuchar is a senior lecturer at Strathclyde University

It was interesting to read about the positive results that have recently emerged from the Playing for Success initiative in England, where Premiership football clubs are helping teachers to establish study support centres at sports grounds.

The latest evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research indicates that teachers have noticed improvements in the pupils' general motivation towards education as a result of the time spent in the centres.

In Scotland, this more informal, relaxed approach to education is one that has been adopted for some time now in the highly successful Summer Academy@Strathclyde. Each year, over 1,000 15-year-olds engage in a wide range of activities, which enable them to learn new skills and gain more confidence in their ability to succeed. The activities are driven by an "active learning" approach and are grounded in real-life contexts where the pupils make most of the decisions.

Much of the success of the programme is down to the work of the mentors - a vibrant team of young people who build strong relationships with the kids through simultaneously acting as their team leaders, coaches, facilitators and friends.

Schools can learn a great deal from these initiatives, as many young people are turned off by the formality of the classroom. This calls for a different kind of relationship between teachers and pupils, and a more creative approach to teaching.

During a recent visit to a secondary school, I became involved in some reflective discussions with a group of 16-year-olds, who said that the best teachers avoided the more conventional methods of teaching and used PowerPoint presentations, involved pupils in practical activities related to the real world and encouraged them to express their views.

The pupils welcomed the fact that teachers had generally become more relaxed with them since they joined S5. They felt this approach was having a positive impact on their motivation and learning. They compared the ethos of mutual respect and autonomy in S5 with the more didactic approach they had experienced in P7.

My own research into pupil participation (The TESS, April 20) suggests that many schools remain hierarchical and authoritarian, and that many pupils feel disengaged.

Many teachers are reluctant to adopt a more relaxed approach in the classroom for fear of losing control of discipline. And yet, my research has shown that greater pupil responsibility leads to fewer discipline issues and more "successful learners."

The mentoring approach to teaching adopted by initiatives such as Playing for Success and by Strathclyde point the way forward, giving pupils the chance to make decisions and equipping them with the confidence to engage in discussion with teachers and to challenge their opinions. Perhaps pupils should even be allowed to call teachers by their first names. Now there's a radical thought!

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