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Testimony of the expert witnesses

PUPILS' VOICES Jean Rudduck, Homerton College, Cambridge

Politicians tell us, policy-makers tell us, researchers tell us - but how often do we ask pupils what they think helps them to learn effectively? The argument is straightforward: if we want to enhance pupils' achievement, why don't we take our agenda for school improvement from their accounts of learning - what helps them to work hard, what switches them off, what kinds of teaching do they value and what kinds of support do they need? They are, after all, our "expert witnesses". It is an argument that makes sense to teachers and over the past few years researchers have worked with schools to construct such an agenda.

What pupils say is pretty similar across schools and across countries, but little attention is given to their analysis. Familiar priorities in school-improvement texts are school leadership, the professional development of teachers and partnerships with outside agencies, but recent school-based research suggests that there are other starting points that might make a difference to pupils' commitment to learning.

These are some of the points that pupils regard as important and that schools are beginning to work on: * teachers should communicate to pupils that they like teaching their subject and like teaching them; * teachers should spend more time talking with pupils about learning rather than their behaviour; * schools should challenge the view that "serious learning" doesn't begin until Year 10; * schools should have clearer "catching up" strategies when pupils miss lessons; * schools should try to legitimise "working hard" (often seen as "non-cool"); * schools should do more to help some pupils change their image (for example from "dosser" to "worker").

Teachers who consult their pupils find that young people are observant, often capable of analytic and constructive comment, and usually respond well to the responsibility of helping to identify those aspects of schooling that strengthen, and those that get in the way of, their learning.

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