We're individuals, so treat us that way, students say

29th May 2015 at 01:00
Teens write report on stresses of school and barriers to learning

Two teenage boys from a South Lanarkshire school have won plaudits for writing a report on the barriers that prevent young people from getting the most out of education.

They have been praised by teaching and parenting bodies for providing an insight into how the stresses of school can hold young people back, and for offering suggestions on what teachers could do to help.

Barriers to Learning (bit.lyBarriersToLearning) was written by Robbie Clark and Adam Spence (pictured above), S4 pupils at Calderside Academy in Blantyre. They were inspired by their involvement last year in a Children's Parliament project that asked them to think about how people learn. The report is based on workshops they ran for 85 S1-4 pupils in their own school; they also gathered responses from about 30 senior students in other parts of Scotland.

The 15-year-olds find that some pupils are stressed by work that is too difficult and are reluctant to ask a teacher for help.

"They also said that many teachers see classes as a whole and often overlook their students' personal difficult circumstances," the report says. "We spoke to students who have responsibilities caring for a parent or sibling outside of school, who said that they frequently get into trouble with their teachers because they have not handed in homework assignments which they could not possibly complete."

Get to know us

Pupils tend to agree that staff are good at teaching and work hard, but they feel that teachers could improve by taking the time to get to know their students better, according to the report. Humour is cited as a crucial attribute for teachers, as it increases students' interest and attention spans.

Group work, while enjoyed by many, can be another big barrier to learning as students "often see it as an opportunity to be social with their friends and are distracted, completing little work", the report adds.

Many enjoy "interactive lessons" where they can engage in debate - although some teachers are perceived as always asking the same students for answers. But this approach is ineffective for pupils who are shy and reluctant to join in discussions.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "It is very difficult for parents - particularly as children grow older, when their opportunities to be involved in school life are reduced - to get a sense of what is happening for their children. This report gives some useful insights."

The main message Ms Prior took from the study was how badly pupils are affected by stress, and she was disappointed that many children felt they were not treated as individuals and spent too much time copying from textbooks. "As a parent, I had hoped that type of teaching had been replaced by more engaging and interactive teaching styles," she said.

The report is "a perfect example of everyone trying to work together in support of learning", according to School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham. "What stands out as critical is the primacy of teacher-student relationships," he said. "It would be good to see a follow-up piece exploring in more depth what contributes to such learning partnerships from teacher and student perspectives, rather than the barriers."

Liz Quinn, a specialist in deaf education, helped to introduce the Unicef Rights Respecting Schools Award to Calderside Academy, which she said had encouraged free discussion of issues. Staff are "very open to any suggestions that can improve their teaching", according to Ms Quinn.

The report's authors presented their findings to all staff this month and Ms Quinn said that younger teachers had found them "extremely useful". "This is all part of how a progressive, modern school should operate," she said, "with staff demonstrating a willingness to be receptive to ideas from young people."

The report came to light at a youth conference in Glasgow earlier this year organised by Education Scotland. Senior officer David Watt said that Robbie and Adam's "valuable work helped teachers, parents and carers to understand and be more aware of the challenges facing young people in education".

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