- When using pupil voice as an evaluation technique, this should be included in the evaluation, improvement and performance management cycle.
- In order to avoid staff feeling threatened, schools should build in procedures to ensure that pupil feedback does not refer to individual members of staff and is unbiased.
- Pupils can give feedback on: their experience of attending the school and satisfaction with the school; how much progress they think they are making; whether they face any problems at school and the extent to which they feel they are fulfilling their potential.
- Schools should formalise ways of seeking the views of pupils in order to identify strengths and areas for development.
Informal and formal discussions with pupils are an integral part of any inspection. Almost every report contains a quote from a pupil about some aspect of the school, and this is usually positive. In fact, the inspection handbook, in the section on grading the overall effectiveness of the school, asks inspectors to: ‘evaluate what it is like to be a pupil in the school’.
However, most inspections are very short and there is limited time to gather the views of pupils. In the worst-case scenario, schools report that this can mean that undue emphasis is given to an isolated comment.
Schools, on the other hand, talk to pupils all the time; if this evidence is formalised, it is a rich source of insight into what is happening in the school and the reality for pupils. This article provides guidance on how to use discussion with pupils as a tool for self-evaluation. If you decide to use pupil voice as an evaluation technique, don’t forget to include this in the evaluation, improvement and performance management cycle.
Discussion with pupils – why bother?
Talking to pupils and acting upon their views can be contentious because some staff might feel threatened. For example, they may feel that some pupils will take the opportunity to criticise staff unfairly. Senior leaders must recognise these concerns and spend some time discussing the advantages as well as the dangers, and building in procedures which ensure that information is accurate and unbiased. For example, it is very straightforward to tell pupils that they must not refer to an individual member of staff.
However, staff must recognise that pupils are the main stakeholders in any school. If self-evaluation is to determine whether achievement is high enough and whether pupils are making good progress, the most direct source of evidence is the pupils themselves. All pupils can engage in discussion, appropriate to their age, about how hard they are working, whether they understand their work and, indirectly, the quality of teaching.
Teaching staff and other adults in schools talk with pupils all the time in a variety of settings, in formal and informal contexts. This gives valuable evidence about:
- the pupils’ experience of attending the school
- pupils’ satisfaction with the school
- how much progress pupils think they are making
- whether pupils face any problems at school and what is done to resolve these
- what pupils know, understand and can do, and the extent to which they feel they are fulfilling their potential.
However, this range of perspectives is not always brought together to evaluate the pupil experience. Schools need to formalise ways of seeking the views of pupils in order to identify strengths and areas for development, and also to give pupils a voice and enable them to make a greater contribution to the work of the school. Through staff and pupil discussion, extend the list above so that it contains all the aspects the school wishes to explore through pupil discussion.
Pupil voice is particularly important when judging achievement as opposed to attainment, because achievement is based on capability. Discussion allows schools to test what pupils have learned (the progress they have made so far) against their capacity to learn, their understanding and their ability as learners. If pupils are capable of far more, for example if they express the view that they are not sufficiently challenged, then expectations are too low.
Informal discussion is a good way of developing a focus for more formal investigation and evaluation. Even general questions about likes and dislikes can lead naturally into aspects of the school’s work which pupils are concerned about. The emphasis should be on listening and allowing pupils to determine their agenda. This has the added advantage that listening to pupils will strengthen relationships and pupils will feel more valued. Note that even though these discussions are informal, staff should still take notes of the important points. They should:
- Talk to as wide a range of pupils as possible in informal situations, such as arriving and leaving school, in the playground and over lunch.
- Ask about what is appropriate to the situation, e.g. how pupils travel to school, what sort of food they like for lunch and whether they can suggest any improvements the school could make.
- Talk to pupils of different ages and levels of attainment and give equal importance to the views of all.
- Try to include pupils from the different groups represented in the school, for example, pupils with special educational needs, members of the school council, and the high achievers.
Remember that pupils’ views provide useful evidence on aspects of the school, but their views should be tested against each other and through other evidence.
Discussion in lessons
If lesson observations are to include discussions with pupils, staff should be consulted and the parameters of any discussions made clear. The focus should be on pupil learning rather than inviting their judgements on any particular teacher. Nevertheless, this will inevitably provide evidence on the quality of teaching.
Take every opportunity, when observing lessons, to talk to pupils about their work. Ask probing, open questions to discover the depth of pupils’ understanding, for example:
- What are the lesson objectives?
- What were the teacher’s instructions for this work?
- How does this link with your earlier work?
Find out how much they are enthused and motivated by the teaching without asking direct questions about teachers, for example:
- Is teaching always like this in the lesson observed, or does it vary?
- Do you do lots of group work?
- How often do you use computers?
Talk to pupils about the work in their books and on display. For example, open a pupil’s book to the first page and ask them to describe what they did at that point. Ask:
- Is any of your work on display?
- Do you like your work being displayed?
Ask who is the best mathematician/scientist/historian in the class and how they know. Talk to these pupils and try to gauge the standards being achieved by the most able.
Establish how secure pupils’ progress is by asking if they understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Ask:
- Are you capable of doing more?
- Have you learned about this before?
Test pupils with slightly harder calculations or invite scientific predictions, for example:
- You have done this… What would happen if we did that?
Find out just how much pupils know and understand and what they can do, and judge whether the work they undertake in lessons takes them on far enough and fast enough.
In relation to marking and assessment, ask pupils:
- Do you know how well you are doing? Do you know how you might improve?
- Are you set targets?
- Is your work marked regularly and is the marking helpful?
In relation to homework, ask:
- Is it set regularly?
- How much?
- What kinds of tasks are set?
- What happens if you don’t do it?
Discussion combined with work scrutiny
Scrutiny of work is one of the most common and most powerful evaluation techniques used by schools.
Typically, a subject leader or member/s of the leadership team collect a range of pupils’ work in order to evaluate aspects of teaching and learning, such as assessment and marking. This can be extended and enriched by discussing the work with the pupils themselves. They can either be asked to bring the work with them or the work can be collected in advance and questions prepared before the pupils arrive.
This approach forces schools to think more carefully about which pupils to choose and the range of work that can be studied. For example, you might consider:
- Is it more appropriate to invite pupils from across the ability range, or focus on pupils of similar abilities, such as high-attainers or those with special needs?
- Are there some subjects, such as art, which we do not normally examine, which this approach of talking to pupils about their work allows us to evaluate in this way?
- What do we want to know about?
- What sort of questions should we ask?
Plan discussions with groups of pupils to find out their views on how the school provides for their academic and personal development, and the extent of their contribution to planning for its development.
For the protection of both parties, always talk to groups of pupils in an open environment.
The checklists in the Toolkit looks at some of the areas that inspectors explore when they are holding discussions with pupils.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the articles into practice:
- Checklist – Formal discussions with pupils92.5 KB
- Form – Talking to pupils about behaviour46 KB
- Handout – Planning formal discussions with pupils77 KB
- Form – Pupil view questionnaire28.88 KB
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