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How students learn within a Quaker School environment



Quaker schools are distinguished by a value system and an ethos that is characterised by an emphasis on mutual respect, social justice and the pursuit of peace. Although Quaker schools vary in their origins, the age-range they include, their gender makeup and the characteristics of their location, they share a commitment to these core values. It is the potential significance of these values in terms of their impact on pupils’ learning and development, that led to the initiation of a research project aimed at exploring students’ perspectives of their Quaker school experiences.

The Quaker schools research project explored the views of students across 5 Quaker schools in the UK, aiming to provide insights into the characteristics of Quaker school education from the student perspective and understand in what ways, if any, those characteristics influence how students perceive their engagement with the educational opportunities their schools provide. The project also sought to explore the ways, if any, students across different Quaker schools experienced a similar authentically Quaker education.

Research questions
1. What are students’ perceptions of their Quaker school environment?

2. What are the relationships between students’ perceptions of their schools and their engagement with the educational opportunities they provide?

An exploratory, sequential, mixed methods design was used, including thematic content analysis, along with statistical analysis and text analysis. Data were analysed using a triangulation model, applying an iterative process to produce a map of significant themes.

The overall conclusion of this research project are the following:
1. Quaker schools are authentically Quaker. It is clear that the shared Quaker values translate into a learning environment in which students feel they are respected and listened to. This in turn helps to create positive relationships with teachers which results in a greater orientation towards ‘deep-learning’.

2. There is a significant relationship between students’ perceptions of the quality of relationships within their school environment, their appreciation of Meeting for Worship, and their feeling that school is a safe place to ‘be themselves’, and their engagement in deep learning approaches to study.

3. Quaker schools provide important insights to offer to the wider education community concerning the relationship between values, school ethos and students’ experience of education.

4. The research makes a powerful case for the value of empowering learners through the creation of a climate of mutual trust and respect. Findings suggest this is likely to promote genuine learning and help produce young people equipped to cope effectively with the challenges of the future.

The lead researcher, Nigel Newton, successfully defended his PhD thesis based on the research. Further academic articles are planned.

Key findings

Ten themes emerged from qualitative analysis of student interviews. These were found to be common to students in each of the schools and across year groups.

A 45 item school perception survey and 20 item learning process survey were administered to students. Applying principal component analysis, five underlying dimensions in students’ perceptions of their school were found. These were examined in relation to students deep and surface learning approaches.

There were significant correlations between students’ ‘Deep Learning’ (DL) scores and three school perception scales, ‘Expectations and relational culture’ (ERC), ‘Meeting for Worship and use of silence’ (MWS), and ‘Low anxiety and community environment’ (LAC), with the first two scales this was >0.4 and with LAC >0.2. There was a significant negative correlation between ‘Surface Learning’ (SL) and ERC, MWS and LAC (>0.2).

Data indicates that correlations between students’ perceptions of school and their approach to learning is influenced by factors within the schools rather than because of the personality traits of students.

Further analysis of student and teacher interview data was applied in order to understand and interpret the statistical data. From this analysis the following relationships between perceptions, school practices and student behaviour emerged:

1) Friendly relationships create strong bonds of trust, grounded in mutual respect. Students recognise teachers as supportive. Opportunities for open conversations exist between students and teachers. Students feel an increased sense of responsibility for their learning because of the quality of relationships they have with their teachers. The Quaker testimony of equality appears to shape how many interpersonal relationships are perceived.

2) MfW is seen to provide opportunity to reflect, contributing to the relaxed atmosphere of school. It is also considered as confirming the place of students’ voices and importance of community within school.

3) Students feel they can be themselves without anxiety. They feel supported to do the best they can, but this ‘best’ is not reduced to examination performance. There is a strong emphasis on students developing moral character.

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