It is increasingly clear that school improvement demands the involvement of students in new ways, Jean Ruddock of Homerton College, Cambridge, told the conference.
If schools are to investigate pupil satisfaction levels and pupil-teacher relationships, she said, there is no alternative but to ask them for their views, writes Maureen O'Connor. Yet if there is one thing guaranteed to make teachers twitch it is asking students to comment on the quality of what goes on in classrooms.
The youngest contributors to the conference, a group of Year 10 pupils from Shorefields Community School in Liverpool, discovered the truth of this when they were recruited for a research project on the quality of their own school as part of Shorefields' improvement strategy. Teacher suspicion and pupil antagonism were profound until the whole school was reassured that the exercise would be strictly anonymous.
The Shorefields research combined a questionnaire, which asked the whole school to comment on perceptions of classroom control, fairness, behaviour, the size of classes, the enjoyment of lessons and whose responsibility it was to make sure lessons were enjoyable.
Staff were probably reassured to learn that the survey showed that most pupils reckoned that the great majority of teachers had good classroom control. However, more than half felt they were treated fairly only "sometimes, rarely or never", and almost three-quarters felt that classes were unreasonably large.
Shorefields' tiny project confirms what the more systematic research of Jean Rudduck and her colleagues has also shown. "Young people are observant, are often capable of analytic and constructive comment and usually respond well to the responsibility of helping to identify aspects of schooling which get in the way of their learning."
What the customers think: students' research on the quality of their own school, P Freeman, Shorefields Community School, Liverpool.
School improvement: what can pupils tell us? J Rudduck, G Wallace and R Chaplain, Homerton College, Cambridge.