Last Updated: Monday, December 19, 2022

Learner Participation in Educational Settings (3-18)

What is this?

Find guidance and support materials to help schools and early years settings develop an understanding of learner participation and plan for implementation within their setting.

Who is this for?

​This guidance will be of benefit to all senior leadership teams and practitioners within early years and school settings.​ 

​​​Guidance and support materials to help schools and early years settings develop an understanding of learner participation and plan for implementation within their setting. The guidance offers :

  • a clear definition of learner participation
  • principles for participation
  • the rationale and benefits of participation
  • an outline of the four arenas in which participation happens.

The resource also contains five film case studies which exemplify practice and a number of other support documents.

How to use this approach

This guidance was initially developed in response to research that was commissioned by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and carried out by the University of Stirling. This demonstrated that schools who were performing higher than expected in attainment had a strong focus on learner participation.

In response to this a framework was developed which outlined clear arenas in which participation took place, which included:

  • learning, teaching and assessment
  • opportunities for personal achievement
  • decision making groups
  • connection with the wider community

When exploring how they might take forward learner participation, schools should consider where they are currently and how they want to develop their practice in each arena. The 'self-evaluation mapping tool' and 'planning tool' (provided below) can support them to do this, but extensive dialogue about participation using the guidance itself and the 'introductory presentation' should help practitioners to develop a shared understanding of what is involved in supporting learner participation.

Practitioners should also seek to understand the principles of participation including the need to create inclusive and respectful opportunities for all children and young people to be involved in participation. A key aspect of this is ensuring that intergenerational dialogue takes place which means that adults are able to see children and young people as equal participants in two-way dialogue that recognises children’s rights and seeks to ensure that the outcome of this dialogue is actively shared with children and young people.

Improvement questions

  • To what extent do we have a shared understanding of what learner participation involves?
  • Do the values and practices within our setting, respectfully include children and young people in active participation?
  • How well do we embed participation in each of the 4 arenas of learning including: learning, teaching and assessment; personal achievement; decision making groups and wider community?
  • Do we recognise the impact and benefits that embedding learner participation in our setting can bring – in areas such as learning and teaching, attainment, relationships and culture and ethos?
  • How ready are we to fully develop and embed learner participation in our setting?

Explore this approach

As well as the guidance, this resource provides some support materials and links to helpful resources including to the 7 Golden Rules (on CYPCS website) which can help schools to develop authentic participation.

A key part of the resource is the filmed case studies which provide helpful examples of practice in at least one of the four arenas outlined in the guidance although many of them also have links to the other arenas. These case studies are designed to prompt viewers and educators to consider their own contexts for learner participation and to plan for change. Exemplification can help practitioners to begin to apply and generalise ideas and understand their own practice. Accompanying each video is some additional information on the schools/early years settings journey within participation.


Case Study 1: St. Eunan’s Primary School, West Dunbartonshire

This video demonstrates learner participation in the arena of 'learning, teaching and assessment'.

In St. Eunan’s Primary, pupils are invited to reflect and have a say in matters that affect them including learning, teaching and assessment through the 'Changemakers initiative'. Changemakers are pupils from throughout the school who collect, analyse and communicate evidence and experience about the quality of learning and teaching. It particularly focuses on approaches the pupils themselves value in their learning and sharing these more widely. With support and training, Changemakers provide in-depth feedback about the quality of, for example, lesson pacing, questioning, levels of difficulty in tasks and topics addressed.

Case Study 2: Our Lady’s High School, North Lanarkshire

This video demonstrates learner participation in the arena of 'opportunities for personal achievement'.

In Our Lady’s High School, one key project is the planning, participating in and evaluating visits to Malawi and China. These visits help pupils to understand the lives and cultures of others and afford many opportunities for skill sharing and reciprocal learning between cultures. Pupils reported valuing the opportunities to volunteer and share in decision making about many project initiatives and events. This participatory approach to personal achievement supported rich learning environments, improved attainment and better relationships between staff and pupils.

Case Study 3: Bearsden Academy, East Dunbartonshire

This video demonstrates learner participation mainly in the arena of 'decision making groups'.

In Bearsden Academy, pupils have for some time, been involved in having a say in school governance matters. Staff were keen that pupils were more widely involved in school improvement processes and began this approach by asking pupils to share their initial thoughts on school improvement. This led on to pupils being more widely involved in self-evaluation and developments within the school. The Bearsden Aspirational Team involves 30 young people from S1 to S6 in sharing evaluative comments on the quality of their learning with staff in a respectful, helpful and positive manner. Young people help complete and review a school improvement plan and work collaboratively to take responsibility for that plan.

Case Study 4: Ferguslie Pre-five Centre, Renfrewshire

This video demonstrates learner participation mainly in the arena of 'wider community'.

In Ferguslie Pre-five Centre, one initiative that brings the community together with staff and children in a participatory way is the morning café. Children take orders and help to run the service and manage the business. As part of this project they were able to visit local coffee houses to help them develop their own ideas. Staff take into account their knowledge of how children learn to create meaningful approaches to learning in this context. As a result, children talk confidently about what they enjoy learning and how some of their skills have developed.

Case Study 5: Braes High School, Falkirk

This video demonstrates working across all arenas.

In Braes High School, all of the arenas come into play through pupils involvement in the 'Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme'. This work uses peer-to-peer communication and support so that pupils can become more aware of the ways they can safely intervene when they witness incidents of violence and bullying. There is a school wide structured approach to the development and training of pupil mentors who work with younger pupils to encourage members of the school community to take action against bullying and violence. Part of this approach is the development of pupil-led decision making groups with opportunities for reporting, adult support and involvement. The initiative has had a ripple effect through the pupils' own lives, the culture and ethos of the schools involved and their associated communities.

Barrhead High School Learning Ambassadors Film 2022

Barrhead High School have worked with Education Scotland to train their Learning Ambassadors. This group of young people have worked with staff and learners to identify strengths and improvements to the learning experience across the school.


PDF file: Learner Participation in Educational Settings (3-18) (7 MB)

PowerPoint presentation: Introductory presentation (3.4 MB)

PDF file: Learner Participation planning tool (220 KB)

PDF file: Self-evaluation mapping tool (217 KB)

PDF file: Framework for Implementation (389 KB)

PDF file: Readiness checklist (409 KB)

PDF file: A Lens on...Participation of Care Experienced Young People (640 KB)

PDF file: Developing Learner Participation: Understanding Practice in a Pilot Phase (7 MB)

Image file: Learner Participation in Educational Settings (3-18) poster (3 MB)