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Comparative Education Vol. 42, No. 4, November 2006, pp.

517532

Nous couter, nous soutenir, nous apprendre1: a comparative study of pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process
Elizabeth McNess*
University of Bristol, UK
Elizabeth.McNess@bristol.ac.uk ElizabethMcNess 0 400000November 42 2006 & Francis Original Article Ltd 0305-0068 Francis2006 Comparative Education 10.1080/03050060600988403 CCED_A_198741.sgm Taylor and (print)/1360-0486 (online)

In many countries around the world there is a current focus on the restructuring of education systems in a bid to increase the quality of the educational experience for pupils in order to raise their academic achievement. However, the defiition of quality as expressed through policy may not always accord with the aims and aspirations of individual teachers or, perhaps more importantly, match the constructions given to the concept of quality by pupils. The rhetoric and intent expressed in policy texts may even have the potential to restrict the quality of what teachers do and what pupils experience. This paper draws on the findings of the ENCOMPASS project to illustrate the concepts of quality as expressed by the pupils themselves. It looks at what pupils in England, France and Denmark had to tell us about motivation, engagement and the conditions necessary for effective teaching and learning. It proposes some reflections on questions such as: What do young people see as the purpose of schooling? What motivates young people to learn? What do young people expect from their teachers in order to enhance their learning?

Introduction Education systems in Europe and beyond are currently engaged in a quest for quality and effectiveness. Such concerns have been fuelled, in part, by the increasing influence of international comparative studies such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which focus on the outcomes of different schooling systems for particular cohorts of children. In a market-orientated world, where Governments are keen to maximize human capital in order to gain economic advantage, such studies are often used by policy-makers in various national settings
*Centre for International and Comparative Studies, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1JA, UK. Email: Elizabeth.McNess@bristol.ac.uk ISSN 0305-0068 (print)/ISSN 1360-0486 (online)/06/04051716 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/03050060600988403

518 E. McNess to legitimate claims of underachievement and to justify radical changes in policy. But do such studies tell us all there is to know about teaching, learning and the pedagogic process? Is it possible that the nuances of pupil experience get overlooked in such aggregated scores of national achievement? Are there dangers in operationalizing what has become a global rhetoric within culturally specific contexts? This article draws on evidence from a programme of comparative study to discuss some of the universals of pupil experience with regard to such issues as motivation, attitudes to learning, and perceptions of effective teaching. It builds on a general concern to allow young people increasing input into the decisions that affect their lives, as expressed in, for example, the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, together with the more specific concern, such as that expressed by the Department for Education and Skills in England, to democratize the education process and include pupil voice in decision-making in order to combat disaffection and disengagement (DfES, 2004). In so doing, the article also argues for more qualitative, comparative studies to extend, enhance and explain the knowledge gained from the large-scale quantitative studies, mentioned earlier, so demonstrating the value of comparison in drawing out both the commonalities and differences of pupil experience, intranationally as well as internationally. Young peoples experience In a knowledge driven society, European countries are putting a great deal of resources into extending the time young people spend in education with programmes designed to widen access and broaden the content of education syllabuses (Green et al., 1999). This means that more young people can expect to spend more time over a longer period in formal learning situations. It is important, therefore, to ensure the quality of these learning encounters in order to promote motivation, retain engagement and increase effectiveness. However, it also appears that a sizeable, perhaps growing, number of children currently approaching adolescence and young adulthood are challenging the ethos of schoolsinstitutions which appear, for some, to have little relevance to their daily lives and fail to recognize their individual identity and needs. For a significant minority, school offers a daily reality of failure and the erosion of self-esteem as they struggle to achieve what many perceive to be the arbitrary and unobtainable goals that the system imposes on them (Pollard et al., 2000; Osborn et al., 2003). As a result there is some evidence, internationally, that the reality of schooling can lack meaning and create alienation from the education process (Andersson, 1996; Barber, 1996; Kinder, 1997; Elliott et al., 1999). But why should this be the case? What is it about the organization of schools or the performance of teachers that motivates against the inclusion of all children in the learning process? Research recognizes that the influences are many, and that they include a combination of both sociocultural and home influences as well as issues to do with school structure and organization. For Kinder (1997), whose work included childrens views on reducing disaffection, issues

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 519 of curriculum content (more interest, more practical activities, more choice, more variety, more engagement with the real world), teacher characteristics (justice, patience, understanding, respect, humour and informalitythough still able to control), and school rewards and sanctions (tensions between the visual symbols of school authority and those of youth culture) were paramount. Hufton and Elliott (1999), in an exploration of the purposes and value of education in Sunderland, Kentucky and St Petersburg, highlight more subtle sociocultural factors at work in relation to various pupils attitudes to learning. A study by Andersson (1996), followed students between the ages of 1316 years over a three-year period and found many students who reacted negatively to school and typified them in the following way:
They did not find school intellectually or creatively stimulating, they wished to spend more time with practical-aesthetic subjects and school was not especially meaningful to them. Most students (in this category) said that they were not allowed to make their own decisions and they wished to have more responsibility. Their relations with the teachers were negative or neutral but the peers saved them from total desperation. (Andersson, 1996, p. 19)

Such studies raise questions about the extent to which a universal preoccupation with standards and outcomes, borne out of an industrial model of schooling designed to fit successive generations of children for their role in society, is still able to perform in the rapidly developing world of the twenty-first century. The current emphasis on academic subjects, the prevalence of teacher-dominated lessons, and an authoritarian regime in which the balance of power between teachers and pupils is profoundly unequal may contribute to this alienation. Indeed, Rudduck and Flutter (2000) suggest that Teachers are very aware of the difficulties of engaging all pupils in learning and know that schools have changed less in their deep structures in the last twenty to thirty years than young people have changed (p. 86). This is echoed by Graudenz and Randoll (1997) in a study of adolescent perceptions of their schooling in Germany and Denmark:
Processes of change are inevitable if teachers want to maintain their credibility in the eyes of the pupils. There is still too much unquestioned loyalty to traditional contents and methods of learning, performance expectations and rules of conduct. They might have worked for former generations, but they are not valid today. The world has changed dramatically. Growing up has new features shaped by a world of technology and individualism. School, however, seems nearly oblivious to these changes. (Graundenz & Randoll, 1997, p. 198)

So what can young people tell us about what motivates them to learn? What type of learning environment is most inclusive and how can comparative research contribute to this debate? A programme of comparative research Comparative research has a long and distinguished history of seeking to understand educational perspectives and practices within their specific cultural contexts, in order

520 E. McNess to understand more fully how learning takes place. While some researchers have compared processes and outcomes in order to find the right way or best practice (Reynolds & Farrell, 1996), others have been seeking to understand more fully the nuances of cultural context and the situatedness of various pedagogical approaches (Alexander, 2000). Following in this tradition, a unique programme of comparative studies undertaken by researchers at the University of Bristol between 1984 and 2000a time of major policy change and increasing Government involvement in educationhas attempted to analyse the way in which various historical and cultural differences within the national education systems of England, France and, more recently, Denmark have impacted on the decisions of policy-makers, the work of teachers, and the perceptions of pupils (see Table 1). These studies have built on each other, using a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative approaches, to look in a progressive way at the impact of policy change over time. The original choice of France and England, selected to represent a focus on the centralized and universal, on the one hand, and the decentralized and individual, on the other, was later added to by Denmark which represented a more
Table 1. Date 19841987 Project title Bristaix Project A programme of ESRC-funded research Focus Main reference Broadfoot et al. (1993)

19891997

1993

19951997

19982000

A comparison of French and English primary teachers perspective on issues of accountability and responsibility A longitudinal study of the impact of The Primary the 1988 Education Reform Act Assessment, (England & Wales) on teachers Curriculum and work and pupil experience which Evaluation Project compared six successive years of (PACE) primary education for a single cohort of children Systems, Teachers, A comparative study of the impact of and Educational national policy changes, at the end Policy (STEP) of the 1990s, on primary teachers work in England and France A comparative study of primary Quality in pupils perspectives, experiences Experiences of and achievements in England and Schooling Transnationally (QUEST) France A comparative study of secondary Education and pupils perspectives of schooling in National Culture: A comparative study of England, France and Denmark, attitudes to secondary which incorporated a longitudinal investigation into a sub-sample of schooling the PACE cohort of pupils as they (ENCOMPASS) moved into secondary schooling.

Osborn et al. (2000) Pollard et al. (2000)

Broadfoot (1996)

Broadfoot et al. (2000)

Osborn et al. (2003)

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 521 communitarian and democratic approach to the purposes of schooling. For this reason, despite a common European experience, we have argued elsewhere that, historically, these systems have represented three fundamentally different approaches to the provision of compulsory education and schooling (Osborn, 1999; McNess, 2001, Osborn et al., 2003). Though similar in many respects, these national systems display differences in basic values and aims, which are themselves products of the specific cultural and historical environments from which they spring. They are both informed by, and help to reproduce, the deep socio-cognitive and cultural patterning of particular nation states. Findings from the ENCOMPASS Project2 The latest research in this series of studies, Education and National culture: a Comparative Study of Attitudes to Secondary Schooling (ENCOMPASS), set out to explore the extent to which differences in aims and organizational structure impacted on the pedagogical environment and consequent pupil experience. A central argument of the research was that attention should be paid to the historical and cultural contexts of specific national schooling systems in order to understand fully the subtle differences in the educational aims and priorities that they display. These differences, once identified, were then used to examine the way in which the three systems (in England, France and Denmark) impacted differentially on the learning experience. However, while previous publications (Osborn, 1999, 2001; Osborn et al., 2003) have focused on both the inter- and intra-national differences which the study uncovered, we also recognized that there were some striking similarities in the ways in which pupils in the three countries perceived their schooling but, up until now, these have received less attention in our analysis. This paper, therefore, focuses on congruence and the various constants or universals espoused by the pupils in relation to schooling. It draws on considerable evidence within the data that showed a remarkable agreement between pupils in all three countries in terms of why school was important to them and what they wanted from their teachers. In essence, their construction of what quality would look like. The research used an innovative comparative methodology that was designed to look beyond the powerful statistics of large comparative studies carried out by the OECD and others in an effort to understand the lived experiences of pupils and the effect such experiences had on their attitudes to teaching and learning. The methods employed included a questionnaire survey of nearly 1800 pupils aged between 12and 13-years-old (approximately 600 in each country), follow-up interviews of selected target pupils, classroom observations, focus group discussions, teacher and head teacher interviews, performance data and the collection of institutional and national policy documentation. These methods are reported in more detail elsewhere (Osborn et al., 2003; Osborn, 2004). For the purposes of this article, the main findings are drawn from responses to the questionnaire survey, together with data from individual and focus group interviews with a smaller sub-sample of children with varying levels of attainment.

522 E. McNess What do young people see as the purpose of schooling? The questionnaires, which were completed anonymously in the presence of members of the research team, asked the young people to what extent they agreed with various statements about the purpose of schooling. Table 2 summarizes those statements with which there was most agreement between pupils from all three countries.
Table 2. Pupils attitudes to school and perceptions of the purposes of schooling Strongly agree/agree (%) England France Denmark 1. I want to do well at school 2. School is boring 3. I feel as though Im wasting my time at school 4. An important thing about school is learning new things 5. School is the first step on the way to my career 6. An important thing about school is that it helps you to get qualifications 7. An important thing about school is learning to cooperate with others 8. School makes you aware of your own strengths and weaknesses 9. School is about getting jobs when you leave Totals n = 96 36 7 95 91 95 84 79 70 577 96 27 13 97 85 75 78 86 84 444 92 36 10 94 85 80 91 78 75 610

It can be seen that although most pupils had a positive orientation to school, wanting to do well, a large minority in all three countries agreed that they found the experience boring, while relatively few considered that they were wasting their time. This conflicting response is partly explained by looking at the pupils responses in relation to the purposes of schooling. They were in most agreement with regard to its academic utility and considered it to be a place to learn about new things and get qualifications. Though there were some variations, pupils in all three countries also detected a close link between school and their future career prospects. Finally, its social and personal purposes in learning to cooperate with others and develop in line with your own strengths and weaknesses were also clearly supported by the pupils in all three countries. Its propensity to be boring seemed, at least for some, to be part of a process of delayed gratification in terms of their future lives. What motivates young people to do well at school? The questionnaire also addressed issues of motivation and the role of assessment. The pupils were presented with a list of possible statements that described the reason why they wanted to do good work. Table 3 highlights those statements with which there was most commonality across all three countries and suggests that, again, there is strong agreement about what motivates them. Pupils in all three countries appear to be strongly motivated to achieve well in academic terms in order to enable them to

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 523


Table 3. Motivational factors Strongly agree/agree (%) England When I want to do good work its because: 1. It will help me get a good job 2. Its important for me to do well 3. I want to get a good mark 4. Im interested in the subject 5. Its important to my parents 6. Id like to go on learning as long as I can 7. It will make me popular with my friends Totals n = France Denmark

97 95 94 83 69 65 13 577

91 97 93 81 77 74 27 444

92 90 89 75 66 71 11 610

get a good job, but more immediately to get good marks. Interest in the subject and, to a lesser degree, a desire to please parents were also important motivators. The majority of pupils in all three countries also wanted to go on learning as long as I can, though there is little support for peer competition being a motivating factor. Strong similarities also emerged between pupils in the three countries in relation to assessment. For all three groups, four clear factors emerged in the clustering of responses to statements about the assessment practices in each of the countries. These included:

the potentially de-motivating aspects of assessment for some pupils who agreed with such statements as: I dont really care about marks or grades; A bad mark makes me feel like not trying anymore; I dont get enough guidance on how to improve my work; I dont always agree with the mark I get.

Interview data from the sub-sample of pupils elaborated on this. A Danish pupil expressed the feelings common to some pupils in all three countries in the following way, If you keep being told that you cannot do this or that, you dont learn anything. Another said, But of course it strengthens your self-confidence to get good marks and those who dont, get used to not getting high marks. There was also a sense that the marks awarded in summative assessment only told part of the story; as one Danish pupil put it, Marks do not show your creativity and the subjects dont cover the various aspects you might be good at. A French pupil drew attention to the need for understanding of the subject matter rather than high marks Le plus important cest pas la note cest de comprendre [The most important thing is not the mark but the understanding].

The general concern with the social and personal aspects of assessment, which included agreement with such statements as: I find it embarrassing when teachers point out that my work is wrong in front of the class; I find it embarrassing when teachers praise my work in front of the class; Sometimes I feel worried when the teachers give me back my work.

524 E. McNess
Table 4. The impact of assessment on pupils motivation Strongly agree/agree (%) England What do you think about the marking of your work? 1. I enjoy trying to do better than I did last time 2. I like knowing what marks or grade Ive got 3. I like to know how well Im doing in my work 4. Usually I like it when teachers give me back my work 5. When I get my work back the comments show me what I have to do to improve 6. When I get a bad mark it makes me try harder in the future 7. I dont always agree with the mark Totals n= France Denmark

83 88 84 76 70 70 72 577

90 91 85 80 81 74 71 444

84 89 94 75 68 78 71 610

Interview data, again, illustrated these issues. As one French pupil put it, Ce qui est pire encore cest quand tu as vraiment une mauvaise note et les autres te regardent de travers quoi [What is worst is when you get a really bad mark and the others look across at you]. A Danish pupil considered that those [teachers] who decisively judge by marks are those who do not know the pupils in other ways.

The positive role of formative assessment, which included agreement with such statements as: When I get work back the comments show me what I have to do to improve; When I get a bad mark it makes me try harder in the future. Finally:

A positive orientation to assessment of their work by their teachers, which included agreement with such statements as: I enjoy trying to do better than I did last time; I like knowing what marks or grades Ive got; I like to know how well Im doing in my work; Usually I like it when teachers give me back my work.

The extent to which there was cross-cultural agreement from the pupils can be seen in more detail in Table 4. What are the elements that create an environment conducive to learning? In response to various statements about the way they learnt, pupils in England, France and Denmark were in considerable agreement over what constituted an effective teaching and learning environment. Table 5 again focuses on those statements where there was most agreement. In interview the pupils repeated aspects of these three essential elements: that the content should be interesting and relate to their life experiences; that the process of learning should be active and collaborative; and that it should take place in a socially comfortable and supportive environment.

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 525


Table 5. Pupils perceptions of learning Strongly agree/agree (%) England What do you think about how you learn? 1. I learn better from teachers who make the work interesting 2. Being good at something doesnt mean that you enjoy it 3. I learn better when I know it will be useful to me 4. You have to be happy at school before you can do well 5. I learn a lot from studying on my own 6. It is important to have a teacher who knows you well 7. I learn better when I work with others 8. I learn better when the teacher uses ideas and experiences I am familiar with from outside school Totals n = France Denmark

95 79 79 65 62 64 68 68 577

88 85 74 77 64 61 59 50 444

92 70 70 64 67 63 57 64 610

Interesting was defined in all three countries as a lesson that had an element of fun or humour. As one French pupil put it, Monsieur Giroud est rigolo tandis que Madame Bonnardelle reconte, elle reconte, elle dicte, elle dicte [Mr Giroud is funny whereas Mrs Bonnard goes on and on and on, she endlessly dictates]. And again, Cest endormant, cest toujours ha hein ha hein ha hein ha hein. On dirait quils rabchent toujours les mmes choses, cest sur le meme ton, toujours monotone [It puts you to sleep, its always blaa blaa blaa. They always seem to go over the same things, with the same monotonous tone of voice]. A Danish pupil suggested that, You learn more if the teaching is fun if it is only theory and theorizing in the end you dont bother any longer. Pupils in all three countries appreciated teachers who, have a laugh, can make a joke, liven it up. In the event of the teacher not being able to fulfil these conditions it was pupils who provided the interest. As a French girl explained, Dans le cours il y a toujours quelquun l pour metre de lambiance [Theres always someone in the lesson wholl make it interesting], and that role was often occupied by a boy. Pupils from the three countries also thought that they learnt more when teachers brought in themes from contemporary life. Interesting also implied that the pupils should be active: doing something and that there should be a variety of learning opportunities. They liked active learning to which they had to contribute, such as, writing a report and presenting it [to the class] you learn something about yourself as well as what you find [the results] you can see your own progress (Danish pupil). Or again, We learn when we are to present something and we have had time to prepare in groups of two or three [pupils]. A French pupil put it like this, Si on faisait que parler et copier sur le cahier personne apprendrait [If all that happened was (the teacher) talking and us copying it down, no-one would learn anything]. Again, an English pupil had the same sentiment, mixing the dry reading stuff with a film and the like makes you feel more engaged. Pupils from all three countries decried teacher monologues and copying from

526 E. McNess textbooks or the blackboard. A Danish pupil defined a boring lesson as one where you are, reading on your own, the teacher telling you about the next section [for the next lesson] or a lot of papers [worksheets] to fill in while he [the teacher] talks a lot. Finally, security was a strong theme. Pupils had to feel safe in a learning environment where there was mutual respect between the pupils, where you dont rubbish one another, you listen to what the other tells you, you should be able to share ideas without quarrelling (a Danish pupil), as well as between the teacher and the pupils who should, Listen and appreciate all pupils comments and treat everyone with equal respect as they would treat anyone else. Not have favourites and not be hard on someone who is struggling (an English pupil). What makes a good teacher? Finally, within the questionnaire, pupils were asked to choose the three most important things they thought that a teacher should do from a list of eleven suggestions. Table 6, below, lists the statements in order of their importance as defined by the pupils responses. Pupils from all three countries agreed on the three most important attributes they wanted their teachers to have. They wanted their teachers to be fair, to explain things well and to make work interesting. These sentiments, together with the need for teachers to have a good relationship with their pupils by trying to understand their lives outside school and listening to what they have to say, were repeated over and over again in both individual and group interviews, as well as responses to an open-ended question on the questionnaires. When asked to complete the sentence, A good teacher should they responded in strikingly similar ways. Representative responses from the three nationalities are listed below:
Table 6. What pupils want from their teachers (the pupils were asked to choose only three things) % choosing each statement England What are the three most important things that a teacher should do? 1. Be fair 2. Explain things well 3. Make work interesting 4. Be friendly 5. Give extra help to pupils who find things difficult 6. Provide helpful guidance to pupils on how to improve their work 7. Give pupils some say in what they do 8. Try to understand how pupils feel 9. Encourage pupils to ask questions 10. Make children work hard 11. Be strict Totals n= France Denmark

55 53 39 36 20 22 19 18 10 8 8 577

50 57 50 37 33 18 20 18 11 19 6 444

66 64 57 33 37 29 24 24 11 9 5 610

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 527 For pupils in England, a good teacher should
know what shes talking about and make work fun. Someone who understands you and can boost your confidence, who doesnt shout a lot, friendly and doesnt mind helping you. help and be interested in the work you are doing. Help if you are stuck. Listen to problems you may have at school or home. Teach in different ways with more fun included to make the subject more interesting. explain work carefully. Try to make things fun. Should not expect things to be learned quickly. Listen and help when you have problems. be helpful, kind, understanding. Make the work interesting. Be fair. Explain things clearly. Listen to what we have to say and our ideas and try to understand us.

For pupils in Denmark, a good teacher should


though not a friend, be someone who knows something about you, who you feel good with if you have another teacher whom you dont like it can spoil the learning. understand me, come up with new creative ideas, do something different than what is shown in the textbooks, know me. not scream at the pupils who dont listen. Then they learn nothing and they are the ones who need help. make work interesting and exciting and discuss with the class so we hear each others opinions. make the classes interesting or funny so you like to attend. be open to other teaching methods, give students breaks once in a while, make learning interesting, let the students work in groups. be creative and make things funny to work with.

And, finally, for pupils in France, a good teacher should


savoir couter les lves, les aider, bien expliquer, ne pas faire de preference [Know how to listen to pupils, help them, explain well, not have favourites ] bien expliquer les choses que nous comprenons pas. Normalement un bon professeur doit toujours tre l pour taider, car si non on ne pourra jamais progresser. [Explain well the things that we dont understand. Normally a good teacher should always be there to help you, if not you wont be able to progress.] juste, comprehensible, doit bien expliquer, render le travail intressant, donner la voix aux lves, donner de laide aux lves en difficult, donner aux lves le moyen de bien travailler. [Fair, understandable, good at explaining, make the work interesting, let the pupils have a say, help pupils in difficulty, give pupils the means to do good work.] couter les lves et reexpliquer quand on ne comprend pas. [Listen to the pupils and explain again when we dont understand.] nous couter, nous soutenir, nous apprendre. Il devrait aussi ne pas faire de preference. [Listen to us, support us, teach us. They should not have favourites.]

This last quoteListen to us, support us, teach ussums up neatly the three main themes which have emerged, not only from the latest ENCOMPASS study, but also

528 E. McNess from previous studies in the programme. It can be argued that it is the quality of these three dimensionsrelationships, pedagogy (teaching methods and associated assessment procedures), and curriculum contentwhich enables teachers to create the supportive and inclusive environment necessary for learning. Interestingly, they reflect the three areas of practice associated with effective teaching in the study carried out by Hay McBer (DfEE, 2000) in England: classroom climate, professional skills and teaching skills. Discussion Thus, in terms of pupils own perceptions of effective teaching and learning there was a striking unanimity in terms of the purpose of schooling, the impact of assessment on motivation and learner engagement, the definition of an interesting lesson, and the approach which they expected their teachers to take in creating a quality learning environment. These perceptions included:

the importance of the economic function of education and its link to the job market; the importance of the social aspect of learning, which included the creation of an equitable and fair environment of mutual respect between teachers and pupils, which enabled pupils to have an input into the process of their learning; the positive effects of formative assessment, as well as the potential for demotivation and disengagement in more formal, summative assessment situations; and finally, the use of active and collaborative learning situations which included an element of fun or humour, where teachers created interesting work, explained things well and ensured some concrete link to their lived experience.

Similar dimensions of quality learning have been identified by studies of students in other contexts. Graudenz and Randoll (1997), for example, found that the Danish and German secondary students whom they studied complained that practical knowledge was being neglected in favour of theoretic knowledge and that learning was particularly attractive when they themselves can shape the learning process and experience learning as personally relevant and meaningful (p. 198). The importance of supportive relationships and classroom climate were identified in a recent study of young adolescents in the US (Ryan & Patrick, 2001). Four key factors were perceived by students to be conducive to engagement and motivationa perception of the teacher as being supportive; opportunities to learn interactively and collaboratively; the creation of a climate of mutual respect and encouragement; and the down-playing of competition. Students perception of a positive learning environment was expressed in the following way:
When students believe they are encouraged to know, interact with, and help classmates during lessons; when they view their classroom as one where students and their ideas are respected and not belittled; when students perceive their teachers as understanding and supportive; and when they feel their teacher does not publicly identify students relative performance. (Ryan & Patrick, 2001, p. 456)

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 529 Further insights into what seem likely to be the international constants of conducive learning settings are provided by Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993) in their work on creative flow. They have argued that students who learn most effectively are those who are able to achieve a synergy between momentary involvement and long-term goals. This is most likely to be achieved in classrooms that are selfrewarding and in which the competitive pressures are kept to a minimum. Similar findings have been reported by Kaplan et al. (2002) and Harlen and Deakin Crick (2003). Such evidence challenges school systems that were largely designed in the nineteenth century to incorporate pedagogical ideas more appropriate for the twenty-first century. Graudenz and Randoll (1997) call for a reduction in the gap between what they refer to as schools for learning and schools for living so that a culture of learning is created which directly links to pupils daily lives. They go on to elaborate this in terms of teachers being able to:
learn to search, plan and interpret with the pupils to really represent the offers and opportunities of school. Increased cooperation with the pupils is a necessity; school learning should be transformed into a personal challenge to the pupils. Teachers should lend an ear to the pupils concerns and interests and be aware of their potential for contributing to the learning process. (Grandenz & Randoll, 1997, p. 200)

Such an approach would allow pupils to have more influence over what and how they learn, enabling them to engage in self-regulated learning rather than learning by instruction, and recognize that the process was at least as important as the content. It would also suggest a demand for multidisciplinary learning, which promotes the idea of interconnections and thinking in networks. Research also suggests that teachers, too, identify these dimensions as central for effective student engagement in learning. Hufton and Elliott (2000) document a number of international constants relating to teachers beliefs about student motivation, including the duration, depth and quality of relationships between the teacher, pupil and parent, and the extent and nature of the pedagogical deployment of assessment. More importantly, evidence also suggests that tensions can arise for teachers between their own professional values and engagement with the affective dimension of learning, and the imposition of policy-driven, didactic approaches to learning (Osborn et al., 2000; McNess, 2004; Osborn & McNess, 2005) which can cause them to, fall back on the role of instructors who impart isolated knowledge, often regarding their pupils as spanners in their pedagogical works (Graudenz & Randoll, 1997, p. 200). Yet these ideas are neither new nor revolutionary. A child-centred or child-focused approach to learning, which is fun and practically-based, goes back to Rousseau and beyond. An approach which would seem to by supported by current national policy initiatives in the three countries, such as the Loi de lOrientation3 (1989) in France, the new Act of the Folkeskole (1992) in Denmark, and the personalized learning agenda in England, all of which emphasize the need for differentiated learning which offers a more flexible and individualized learning context, maximizing the relevance and effectiveness for all. It is often other structures, pressures and unintended policy

530 E. McNess outcomes that make it difficult for teachers to focus on the individual and the immediate. For young people, it is important that schooling is seen as part of the here and now and not a discrete, limited, disconnected and isolated period which has to be endured before real life begins. Perhaps schools, rather than being regarded as producers of a product to be released into the market place, need to draw on the older Danish concept of folkeoplusning, or popular enlightenment, to re-focus their work on the individual context. Schooling would then be regarded as part of a much wider and all encompassing approach to learning that is connected to the community and continues through life. Rather than being seen as discrete and linear, learning would then be reconceptualized as episodic and cyclical, connected very directly to the current circumstances of the learner. Conclusion As well as economic and social change, the information revolution, coupled with major changes in the labour market, require traditional institutional structures to become more flexible and elastic in order to provide for the development of the skills and attitudes that will be needed if learning is to become sufficiently responsive. At the same time, the erosion of value-consensus and a growing cultural diversity within industrialized societies is re-emphasizing the role of educational institutions as a mechanism for social integration and control. Such a context throws into relief a tension in the balance between the academic and the more affective, or personal and social, role of schooling, which continues to exercise both teachers and education policy-makers (McNess et al., 2003). The clearest message from this study is the need to pay attention to the evidence from numerous international studies about the factors that contribute positively to learning, to be willing to abandon familiar conceptions of teaching and learning and instead to recognize that quality learning appears to happen when students are active and involved with both peers and teacher. To recognize that student agency is crucial in sustaining motivation and flow and that this depends directly on the quality of relationships both in the classroom and outside, as learning is strongly affected by social and emotional factors. Not only do such factors affect individual learning careers in crucial ways, they are also highly significant in creating a community culture that helps or hinders the job of schools. In a situation in which young people around the world are expected to spend longer and longer in institutions that some find unfulfilling, such findings represent a challenge to all those engaged in the educational project to consider at the most fundamental level the long established assumptions about what quality education looks like and how it is best delivered: Listen to us, support us, teach us. Finally, while recognizing the existence of a substantial body of evidence that confirms the ENCOMPASS findings that culturally derived differences in educational expectations and practices lead to significant variations in pupils learning experiences, it would also seem appropriate to argue that there are meta-narratives about learning that are valid beyond the confines of particular cultures. Comparative

Pupils perceptions of the pedagogic process 531 researchers have a role to play in bringing these to the attention of policy-makers who have their eyes more clearly focused on international difference and competition. Acknowledgement The ENCOMPASS Project was funded by the ESRC from 19982000 and included the following collaborators: Marilyn Osborn, Patricia Broadfoot, Elizabeth McNess, Claire Planel, Pat Triggs (University of Bristol), Birte Ravn and Thyge Winther-Jensen (The Danish University of Education), and Olivier Cousin (CADIS, University of Bordeaux 11). Notes
1. 2. Nous couter, nous soutenir, nous apprendre translates as Listen to us, support us, teach us. This paper is based largely on the findings of an ESRC-funded project (Education and National Culture: A Comparative Study of Pupil Attitudes to Secondary Schooling). ESRCs support for this work is gratefully acknowledged. The Loi de lOrientation is the law that requires schools in France to give guidance and advice to students in choosing various academic pathways.

3.

Notes on contributor Elizabeth McNess is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Bristol Graduate School of Education. She is currently joint-coordinator of the Research Centre for International and Comparative Studies and secretary of the British Association of International and Comparative Education (BAICE). Her research interests include the impact of national policy on teachers work and the influence of history and culture on the structure of schooling and the experiences of pupils. References
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