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The all learning, all dancing school

David Henderson reports on a unique use for an Alloa primary.

Stetson, cowboy boots, jeans and waistcoat may not be school uniform at Park primary in Alloa but you might sneak a sighting after school if last week's line dancing class for senior pupils takes off. But will the teachers be brave enough to don the country and western gear?

There are not many primaries with extracurricular line dancing and fewer with extensive after-school activities. Park appears to set a Scottish precedent.

The school serves an educational priority area in the south-east of the town and following the closure of neighbouring Hawkhill primary last session now enjoys a healthy roll of 196.

Part of the deal saw a transfer to the enlarged school of a percentage of the savings from the closure. An "After Park" programme of activities was made possible, including mixed football, badminton, gymnastics and table tennis. The windfall has been warmly greeted by the community.

Staff and coaches from the former district council, who are now employed by the cultural services department, have been used to run the leisure classes, where pupils are charged 30p a session. Ann Pearson, the headteacher, is delighted. "It is generally an area where you have to chase things up but we have had 148 children express an interest in the activities. There has been a huge response."

A variety of leisure classes aim to appeal to all ages in the school and more are planned. Angling and short tennis will join the programme around the end of this term while a computer club is being set up with volunteers. The school secretary is keen to lend a hand. A theatre group will supplement the arts programme.

Mrs Pearson is also ready to establish a study support scheme around the same time and to experiment with board games. Parents were told she wanted "a school that feels right" and an environment where "children learn 24 hours a day".

The difficult part will be to sustain interest, she says.

Teresa McNally, Labour leader on the council, which has invested Pounds 10,000 in the project, acknowledges that the school has unusually generous levels of staffing.

She told parents at the launch of the programme: "We recognise, however, that education should be a broad and rounded experience, catering for every aspect of a child's personal development. What is taught in the classroom should be complemented by a wide range of other activities. We believe there is something here for everyone and that taking part will help children to develop interests, to make constructive use of their leisure time and to improve their school performance."

Keir Bloomer, the council's director of education, said extracurricular activities would help promote a strong ethos. "Recent thinking and research on what makes an effective school have stressed the importance of ethos. The feeling of belonging to a purposeful and harmonious learning community boosts children's self-esteem and enhances their motivation," Mr Bloomer said.

He added: "For some young people, particularly from disadvantaged areas, their everyday experience does not give them the background and the knowledge to make sense of the formal education process. Enriching that experience, for example, through the work of the theatre group or through visits to places of interest will help to provide that intellectual background and thus support learning. "

"After Park" was a "very positive outcome of local government reorganisation" and would complement the approach of more formal early intervention strategies.

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