Behaviour in Scottish schools: 2016 research

This report is from the fourth (2016) wave of behaviour in Scottish schools research, first undertaken in 2006.

8 Support for pupils

8.1 Whether pupils feel supported in their learning and in their wider experience of school – particularly at potentially challenging times such as the transition from P7 to secondary and during exams – may have an impact on relationships and behaviour. In the qualitative research with pupils and parents, we therefore explored views on how schools supported pupils.

Key findings

8.2 To pupils, feeling supported meant feeling known and understood; being listened to; and having their quailities recognised.

8.3 In terms of day-to-day support with work in the classroom, what mattered most to pupils (P5 pupils in particular) was that sources of support (teacher, support staff, other pupils) were available when needed.

8.4 On the whole, transition from primary to secondary had been smoooth. Factors which helped were preparation in P7 (including a visit from a secondary school teacher, enthusiasm of P7 teacher, increased responsibilities and independence); being in classes with friends; having a transition visit before starting secondary; and senior pupils helping S1 pupils to find classes during the first few weeks.

8.5 The main ways in which pupils and parents thought exam support could be provided were additional supported study sessions; guidance on study skills; help to deal with stress and boosting morale/confidence.

8.6 Pupils generally talked positively about the support they had received from teachers when they had asked for help with personal issues including friendship problems with other pupils.

8.7 In half of the focus groups with pupils [18] , we explored their views on how their school supported them in their learning and in their wider experience of school [19] . There was considerable overlap here with the themes that emerged in the discussions about ethos (see paragraphs 11.70) and pupils said that being supported included:

  • feeling known and understood
  • being listened to – with action being taken as appropriate (they were frustrated when teachers indicated that something would be done about something only for nothing to happen)
  • having their qualities recognised.

Day-to-day support in the classroom

8.8 What mattered to the P5 pupils, in particular, was feeling confident that there were sources of support/help easily available if they needed it. They talked most frequently about the fact that they could ask their teacher but were also aware of support staff and other pupils as sources of help.

8.9 There was a view among one group of S4 pupils that a few of their teachers had 'favourites' who were given undue attention. They felt these pupils were better at the subject and therefore less in need of help than they were – the perceived unfairness of this left them feeling quite unsupported.

Support in the transition from primary to secondary school

8.10 S1 pupils and parents of S1 pupils at three schools were asked for their views on the transition from primary to secondary school. On the whole, they felt the transition had been smooth and pupils had generally adapted to, and were enjoying, the new challenges that secondary school offered them. Factors which had aided the transition for pupils included:

  • being in classes with friends
  • a member of the secondary school staff visiting pupils in Primary 7
  • the enthusiasm of the Primary 7 teacher in preparing them for secondary school
  • giving pupils increased responsibilities and independence in Primary 7
  • senior pupils helping S1 pupils to find classes during the first few days and weeks
  • having a three-day transition visit before starting secondary where pupils are in their secondary classes and follow their secondary timetable

8.11 Where pupils had faced challenges, the most common were adjusting to the increase in homework and assessments, and finding their way around the school.

8.12 Some schools also organised transition meetings for parents – which parents talked positively about.

8.13 Parents at one school were also very positive about a new initiative involving a meeting with their child's guidance teacher in the first term following transition. This covered how the child had settled in – from a holistic rather than purely academic sense – and reassured parents that the guidance teacher had got to know their child well and was 'looking out for them'.

8.14 In contrast, parents of S1 pupils at other schools commented that they had had to wait up five months before the first parents' night at secondary school and that this was too long.

Exam support

8.15 In two schools, S4 pupils and parents of S4 pupils were asked about the support given by the school in the lead-up to exams and during exams. The three main ways in which they felt support could be provided were:

  • additional supported study sessions
  • guidance on study skills
  • dealing with stress and boosting morale/confidence.

Supported study

8.16 In both schools, there appeared to be considerable opportunity for supported study (additional, optional sessions with the teacher for revision outwith the timetabled class e.g. during lunch time or after school). These were valued and appreciated by pupils and parents. However, one group of pupils (who, more generally, seemed particularly stressed and concerned about the amount of work they had to do) pointed out the potential difficulties of finding time to attend as many of these supported study sessions as they felt they should because of clashes between supported study sessions in different subjects; the need for a break at lunch time/at the end of the day; and work and caring responsibilities after school.

Study skills

8.17 The extent to which pupils received advice on study techniques and how to plan their exam preparation appeared to vary – but where it was provided, pupils generally found it helpful (particularly when provided in Personal and Social Education ( PSE) by guidance teachers rather than subject teachers).

8.18 The role and status of PSE was highlighted in this context: on the one hand there was a call for more guidance on study techniques and how to handle the stress of exams (which would tend to be provided in PSE), and at the same time there were calls for more flexibility in timetables and the ability to have extra periods of particular exam subjects (with PSE most commonly suggested as the subject that could be replaced).

Dealing with stress and boosting morale/confidence

8.19 In addition to study techniques, parents felt it was important to boost pupils' morale and confidence and help them deal with anxieties about exams. One school had engaged a motivational speaker to help with this and pupils felt he had given helpful tips about ' performing at your best'.

Pastoral support

8.20 Pupils generally talked positively about the support they had received from teachers when they had asked for help with personal issues including friendship problems with other pupils. In secondary schools, this was often from guidance teachers but there was a view that all teachers should be able to help.


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