PUPILS who have a say in how their school is run are more likely to achieve even if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, a new study has shown.

Researchers from Stirling University found secondary schools in deprived areas where pupils did better than expected in exams placed a premium on engagement with pupils.

The report, commissioned by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, found this approach helped the seven schools involved boost exam results, as well as wider achievements.

However, in all the schools that took part researchers identified areas where greater responsibility could have been given to pupils.

The report concluded: "In the schools we visited there were limits to pupil participation. We can say with confidence there was scope for doing more to both address rights and improve achievement and attainment.

"There were limits to pupils' participation in terms of what decision making could be about, who could participate in power sharing, and in the way schools were linking with their communities through participation."

Pupils on committees, older pupils and female pupils tended to have greater opportunities for engaging in "power sharing", the report found, but pupils still felt schools were primarily adult led.

Dr Greg Mannion, a senior lecturer from Stirling University's school of education, said: "This research adds new and rich accounts from young people themselves to the mounting evidence for how participation through schooling is a driver for all kinds of positive outcomes.

"For young people in these schools, doing well was clearly supported by taking part in a wide variety of activities across all of school life through which they could share in decision-making with adults with whom they had respectful and supportive relationships.

"It was noticeable that in these schools in challenging circumstances, there were many opportunities for participation in all arenas of school life and whilst young people felt schools could do more, these schools did appear to be well on the way to addressing the right of pupils to have a say."

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People said the report provided evidence that the rights of children should not be an "add on", but embedded in school life.

He said: "It demonstrates that young people value strong relationships, mutual respect and understanding, between pupils and teachers as key to helping them do well at school regardless of their backgrounds or how much money their families have.

"My message is that a rights-based education which includes opportunities for engagement in real decision making is a good underpinning for raising achievement and attainment.

"You're more likely to see pupils doing well if they have the chance to make a difference and contribute to the running of school life in meaningful ways."

The research aimed to find out if the schools, which have not been named, were addressing pupils' participation and rights in ways that were distinctively supportive of pupil achievement and attainment.

Evidence showed that in the seven schools, across all areas of school life, pupils had substantial opportunities to formally and informally take part in a variety of activities, to take responsibility for organising events, make contributions to school life and have their views considered in matters that affected them.

The report followed a consultation in 2010 by the Commissioner in which young people's views suggested there was a need to know more about what might make schools fairer places.

The report identified that participation in school life happens in four different areas including the formal curriculum, the extended curriculum, decision-making groups in the school and informal areas such as the playground and social media.

The Commissioner's remit is to promote and safeguard the rights of children and young people, with particular emphasis on the rights set out in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.