Having a Say at School. Research on Pupil Councils in Scotland


Have your say on Councils of the Galaxy



Copies of the comic book, Councils of the Galaxy, were sent out to all schools in Scotland in May 2010. Pupils were invited to take part in a short online survey about the comic book.

As a thank you for completing the survey, five pupils were chosen at random after the survey closed on 15th June 2010 to receive a prize of an iPod Classic. The winners came from the following schools:

Liberton Primary, Edinburgh

Waid Academy, Anstruther

Arbroath High School, Arbroath

Carronhill School, Stonehaven

Silverwood Primary School, Kilmarnock

While the competition has now closed, the survey remains open and we would be keen to receive the views of Scottish students.

A second mailout of comic books took place in October 2010.


Pupil councils: laboratories of democracy or lip service?

New Scottish research points the way to better pupil participation

Having a Say at School (HASAS), the largest Scottish study of pupil councils ever undertaken, identifies ways to boost pupil council effectiveness including establishing a fair process for selecting representatives, enhancing good two-way communication, and ensuring continuity from year to year – with the biggest influence on success being the attitude of staff and adult advisors.

The study provides the first evidence ever on the realities of pupil councils nationwide, and is based on research in every secondary, independent and special school in Scotland, a large sample of primary schools, and all 32 local authorities.

Results show pupil councils differ in how they are set up and run, but that they can be a vital link in the chain of decision making within a school, giving students a real voice in improving school life.

Briefings on the report findings are available by clicking here

The results were also communicated to pupils in a comic book sent to every school in Scotland in the second week in May 2010.


Why this project?


Having a say

The participation of children and young people in adult decision-making has shot up the policy agenda in recent years.  The UN Convention on the Rights of Child, which the Scottish Government is committed to implementing, includes rights of participation.  In Scotland, it has become common for children and young people to be consulted on policies and services affecting them. Increasingly, this is reflected in legislation. 

Having a say at school

In 2000, Scotland led the UK in enshrining children's and young people's rights to participate within education law. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 requires education authorities to have regard to a pupil’s views in decisions that significantly affect that pupil in relation to his or her school education. The participation of young people in decision-making, at both classroom and whole school level, is now seen as an essential element in citizenship education. It is a key part of Education for Citizenship in Scotland, the Scottish national framework for education for citizenship for young people aged 3-18.

During our research, we discovered that around 90% of Scotland's primary and secondary schools have some kind of pupil council - and that most of these have been created since 2000.

Pupil councils

More and more schools operate pupil councils as their main way of involving students in decision-making and promoting citizenship. Some people view them very positively as important 'laboratories of democracy'; others dismiss them as 'token', 'do nothing' bodies for an elite group of young people; and many don't have a strong opinion or seem to know much about them.

Children in Scotland, the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Research on Families and Relationships and the BIG Lottery Research Fund wanted to shed light on what is true and what seems to be working among pupil councils across Scotland. Our hope is that sharing what we have learned will lead to more pupil councils doing meaningful work that benefits these young people and their school communities.

Principal Investigators

Children in Scotland: Dr Jonathan Sher and Dr Fungisai Gwanzura-Ottemoller
University of Edinburgh: Dr Kay Tisdall and Dr Sue Milne (Centre for Research on Families and Relationships)



The project’s objectives    The project to date     The Findings
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