A well structured questionnaire can help bring out the pupil voice. G&T adviser Linda Hodgson describes how her cluster has developed a way of listening to and responding to pupils’ perceptions of school

The Cornish cluster in which I work has recently been involved in a pilot for Every Student Matters (ESM), a process that helps improve the way in which we listen to students (the pupil voice). We use a questionnaire to find out how students see things and then act on that information to change attitudes to learning within the school.

The ideas behind ESM have been developed during 20 years in education by Dr Russell Quaglia, executive director of the US-based Global Institute for Student Aspirations (GISA). The ESM programme is now being developed worldwide and GISA is involved in educational research and policy development, with a particular interest in innovative practices, which is where our Cornish cluster comes in.

The questions in our survey are based on the ‘Eight Conditions’ of the ESM programme, but the survey has been significantly changed and adapted for an English audience: it also takes account of the five outcomes of Every Child Matters.

  • Be healthy 
  • Stay safe 
  • Enjoy and achieve 
  • Make a positive contribution 
  • Achieve economic wellbeing 

The ESM ‘Eight Conditions’

  • Fun and excitement
  • Belonging
  • Spirit of adventure
  • Curiosity and creativity
  • Heroes
  • Confidence to take action
  • Leadership and responsibility
  • Sense of accomplishment

For more information about the Eight Conditions go to www.endicott.edu/globalinstitute

Developing the survey

Teachers from Delaware Primary School and Callington Community College worked with students to define the learning culture of schools in the words of students.

They then produced an online questionnaire with two versions for primary students. The simpler version is for use with years 1-3. It enables very young pupils to respond with a pictorial image. The more complex version is used by older students. 

The website can ‘speak’ to students who have low literacy levels. Children from years three to six acted as consultants and were allowed to develop their ideas using a range of graphic techniques. Teachers felt this was important as research showed that the pupils thought that the questionnaire should be entertaining.

The data was then analysed on a spreadsheet and a report written. Together, these demonstrated the different perceptions of students, organising the answers by age, gender, class and background. Using this, staff worked with colleagues and students to celebrate their strengths and prioritise areas for development and change.

Schools that have been involved with the pilot have found the results very useful, especially those in primary learning networks who have shared their best practice and discussed results across the whole network. One school discovered that across the entire primary phase, pupils felt that they were not being given any choice. This led to discussions with the school council. Staff realised that where choices were available they needed to be made visible to pupils who would then be consulted in the decisions that were subsequently made. Previously, pupils hadn’t equated ‘consultation’ with ‘having a choice’.

Another school used the questionnaires and documents to share with Ofsted inspectors who praised the school for its involvement of students in decision-making.

A sample question set (‘Sense of accomplishment’) from the survey

Pupils respond to the following prompts by checking the appropriate box: almost always/often/sometimes/hardly ever/undecided.

  • I know how to improve my learning
  • Students encourage each other to do well in class
  • My tutor helps me to do better
  • I am praised when I try my best
  • Other students recognise my skills and abilities
  • I work hard
  • My parents/carers ask me about my day in school
  • I find my lessons challenging
  • Rewards are fairly given

What the survey examines

The questionnaire has been developed to help teachers ask, and answer, the following types of questions:

  • Is there a difference in attitudes between boys and girls?
  • Is there an age difference in attitudes?
  • How do attitudes vary by parent’s socio-economic group?
  • Do the new leadership courses have an impact on attitudes towards leadership?
  • Do students on the gifted and talented programmes have a different sense of accomplishment?
  • What types of students feel safe in our school?
  • Is there a difference in attitudes towards achievement by socio-economic group?

The work has been trialled very successfully with several primary networks in Cornwall and is still evolving. For the future it is hoped that the website will evolve to facilitate students accessing the questionnaire directly on the site in order to individualise the service to schools.

First published in Primary G&T Update, September 2006