Headlines: July 5th, 2006

Involving children in urban areas in decisions about the communities in which they live can have a dramatic impact on their academic and social development and lead to improvements in the school curriculum. A study published today by the Economic and Social Research Council shows involvement can bring about a massive boost to children’s self esteem.The findings come from an innovative project led by Professor William Scott of the University of Bath. He and his team worked with a group of 11 and 12 year olds in a secondary school in a deprived urban area of South Gloucestershire in which the children had a leading role in exploring and ultimately improving their local environment. The pupils not only helped determine the focus of the research but were also an integral part of the research team, designing the process, collecting and analysing data, drawing conclusions and suggesting changes.

Teachers involved in the project reported that the children ‘had had a massive boost to their self-esteem, with individuals growing in confidence’ and attributed this to the responsibility and trust the children had been given. Teachers were particularly impressed by the impact on the pupils’ capacity to learn and enjoy learning, their ability to relate to people in different ways and the development of new skills, particularly in the imaginative use of IT.

The researchers found urban children were knowledgeable about their local community and were directly affected by problems like air and noise pollution, traffic dangers and crime. Increasingly they found themselves with nowhere to go and nothing to do, particularly at the age when they moved from primary to secondary school. Children’s ideas about the environment were rarely sought in planning decisions and they did not know how to make their voices heard.

Professor Scott’s team suggest that schools should support pupils in getting their views across. They believe the lack of connection between children’s experience of school and their out-of-school lives contributes to a decline in academic progress and motivation experienced by many children in the early years of secondary school. .

Local authority representatives, educationalists and adult family members were also involved and, the research shows, were enthused by the insights they gained into how to engage children and the new collaborative working relationships they had established as well as by new ways of thinking about the curriculum. One teacher who took part described the project as “one of the best professional experiences in many years of teaching”.