Children's perceptions of learning science beyond school

Lauren Boath, Colette Murphy (Contributing member)

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Overview: This study uses a children’s rights-based methodology to access children’s experiences and perceptions of science learning in and out of school. Scotland’s curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), defined as the “totality of experiences which are planned for children … wherever they are being educated” (Scottish Government, 2008), recognises learning wherever it happens. The role of partners in supporting and progressing children’s science learning is of increasing importance (Education Scotland, 2012). However, Stocklmayer et al. (2010) note that it is only recently that the informal sector has been recognised as having a role to play in education, hence a growing need to identify potential synergies between learning in school and out of school. The language of CfE which recognises the role of the child in the learning experience is perhaps the most radical and innovative element of the Scottish curriculum reform which has taken since 2004 (Priestley & Minty, 2012). Despite this, engagement with children’s voice in Scotland’s schools can be described as tokenistic (McCluskey et al., 2013; Robinson & Taylor, 2007; Tisdall, 2007), with little or no engagement around matters of learning and teaching. 
    Methodological approaches: Children’s voice and perspectives are notably absent from much research to understand science learning (see, for example, Buntting et al., 2015). Employing an approach framed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as a methodological enactment of cultural-historical theory, we used an innovative children’s rights-based approach, based on previous science education research with children (Murphy et al., 2013). We explored children’s experiences and perceptions of science learning beyond school by involving 11 children as coresearchers, a CRAG (children’s research advisory group), and a larger group (600+) as research participants who completed a questionnaire, codesigned by CRAG & researchers, to inform thinking on connections between learning science in and out of school. Initial findings: CRAG children interpreted survey findings differently from the adult researchers. For example, in available responses to the question “how good do you think you are at science?” were “very good, OK, not good”. Researchers took “very good and OK” responses as positive, and “not good” as a negative. CRAG interpretation was far more nuanced, suggesting that OK might mean different things, e.g.•they are comparing themselves with others - not the best in the class, but not worst.•there are some bits they can do, other bits they find harder.•average.•linked with how much they enjoy it and how much effort they put in.•girls who don’t give themselves recognition “I’m pretty good at it but I don’t want to say that”.The CRAG suggested that if the questionnaire were to be used again, we would need to reconsider the questions, perhaps including an opportunity for more open-ended responses.
    Significance: Data analysis is at an early stage. We will present overall findings and conclusions on connecting science learning in and out of school deriving from this work, an area which is currently underexplored in Scotland, and in which children’s rights are ignored or underplayed.

    Buntting, C., Gunstone, R., Corrigan, D., Dillon, J., & Jones, A. (2015). The Future in Learning Science: Themes, Issues and Big Ideas. In D. Corrigan, C. Buntting, J. Dillon, A. Jones, & R. Gunstone (Eds.), The Future in Learning Science: What's in it for the Learner? (1st ed. ed., pp. 1-17). London, United Kingdom: Springer International Publishing.

    Education Scotland. (2012). The Sciences 3-18 Curriculum Impact Report. Retrieved from Online:

    McCluskey, G., Brown, J., Munn, P., Lloyd, G., Hamilton, L., Sharp, S., & Macleod, G. (2013). 'Take more time to actually listen': students' reflections on participation and negotiation in school. British Educational Research Journal, 39(2), 287-301. doi:10.1080/01411926.2012.659720

    Murphy, C., Lundy, L., Emerson, L., & Kerr, K. (2013). Children's perceptions of primary science assessment in England and Wales. British Educational Research Journal, 39(3), 585-606. doi:10.1080/01411926.2012.674921

    Priestley, M., & Minty, S. (2012). Developing Curriculum for Excellence Summary of findings from research undertaken in a Scottish local authority. Retrieved from

    Robinson, C., & Taylor, C. (2007). Theorizing Student Voice: Values and Perspectives. Improving Schools, 10(1), 5-17.

    Scottish Government. (2008). Curriculum for Excellence Building the Curriculum 3 A Framework for Learning and Teaching. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Goverment.

    Stocklmayer, S. M., Rennie, L. J., & Gilbert, J. K. (2010). The roles of the formal and informal sectors in the provision of effective science education. Studies in Science Education, 46(1), 1-44. doi:10.1080/03057260903562284

    Tisdall, E. K. M. (2007). School councils and pupil participation in Scottish secondary schools. Retrieved from Online:

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2017
    Event3rd European Conference on Curriculum Studies 2017: Curriculum: Theory, Policy, Practice - University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom
    Duration: 16 Jun 201717 Jun 2017 (Link to conference information)


    Conference3rd European Conference on Curriculum Studies 2017
    Abbreviated titleECCS 2017
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Internet address


    • Children's voice
    • UNCRC 1989
    • Science learning


    Dive into the research topics of 'Children's perceptions of learning science beyond school'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this