Baffled by the big school, but they love it

Shirley English

Even the most adventurous 11-year-old harbours feelings of dread about "moving up to the big school". Having to leave the familiarity of the primary classroom and be parted from life-long friends is enough to trigger butterflies in the sturdiest of stomachs.

Promises of a new pencil-case or geometry set do little to ease the nerves. But now an award-winning project at Bellshill Academy is building bridges to ease children over this momentous life change.

The Baffle Club, set up in March last year to introduce S1 and S2 pupils to the secondary school, has moved into a new phase with a project aimed at primary 7. The club, run jointly by teachers and senior pupils, with funding from the Prince's Trust and Barclays New Futures, is holding weekly classes for children from neighbouring Mossend primary.

There has been a 75 per cent take-up, and organisers believe they have hit on a balance between homework, study and leisure activities, overseen by sixth-formers, known as Bafflers.

Derek Goldman, the partnership officer based at Bellshill, said: "What is unique about Baffle is the idea of peer educators, or Bafflers, running the show. The school was already involved in a supported study scheme when we started thinking about Baffle, but it did not cater for younger pupils. We were keen to come up with a project that combined a mixture of homework and study skills, with a leisure programme built in."

Every Tuesday night after 15 minutes of homework the 38 members study technology and computers in two alternate groups. Afterwards they let off steam with badminton or uni-hockey.

Lorraine Blair, aged 11, says "it's brilliant". This week, together with her classmates, she is learning about structures in technology. The class are so enthusiastic that they have passed up the chance to play badminton to complete a wood and glue bridge. This is Lorraine's fifth week at the Baffle and already she feels at ease in "the big school".

Robert Young, aged 11, is equally enthusiastic. "Baffle is great for doing homework and learning new stuff. I was a wee bit nervous coming to secondary, but now I feel a bit better about it," he said.

Twenty-five Bellshill pupils help with the club. Competition for places was hard fought. Each peer educator was interviewed before taking part in an intensive training weekend. Lydia Lawless, 17, hopes to start teacher education at Jordan-hill after her Highers this summer.

Both groups complete weekly Baffle logbooks. "Baffle helps younger pupils get to know the school, and it is quite rewarding for the older pupils when they find they can help with homework," she said.

Relationships between teachers and older pupils have been strengthened, and the project has boosted the reputation of Bellshill in the wider educational community. Last month Bafflers ran workshops for headteachers at a national Prince's Trust conference in Stirling. They did so well that they have been asked them to run a similar workshop in Cleveland in May. More than 250 pupils have so far benefited from Baffle and organisers plan clubs for Bellshill's other feeder schools next term.

Mossend chose to study computers and technology because pupils had little previous exposure. But the options are varied, ranging from French to science and art.

Margaret Peacock, one of four Mossend teachers who volunteered to help, says: "On Wednesday morning all the children talk about is what they did at Baffle the night before. They have developed a positive attitude about going to secondary school and they are all keen to get extra homework to take to the club, which is amazing."

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Shirley English

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