Banking on a better future

Last year a group of parents and pre-school children gathered at a West Bromwich playgroup to see a puppet show on the theme of "stranger danger". It was an entertaining as well as educational experience, with much pantomime-type audience participation.

Not unusual perhaps, except that the show was organised by a group of Year 10 pupils from the local Churchfields Community Comprehensive School, as part of a Community Service Volunteers project. Scripted by two pupils and researched by a whole group, it was performed by a theatre company whose services the pupils had negotiated, it included material pupils had obtained from the police, and posters were designed to advertise the event and money raised to pay for it.

This was just one community project organised by pupils at Churchfields school. In response to the growing number of attacks on the elderly in the neighbourhood, another group did a checklist for elderly people to refer to when they answer the door, and a third joined forces with a local junior school to plant trees.

These are the kinds of community projects being targeted by "New Futures", an awards scheme announced last week by Barclays Bank, which will give a total of Pounds 5 million over five years to create positive links between schools and their communities.

Other examples cited included Wallasey School in the Wirral, where pupils produce a talking newspaper for blind people and devote time to making nursery toys with mainly recycled material.

Organised by CSV, an organisation which provides opportunities for people to play an active part in communities and which has been working for some time with schools, the Barclays scheme will give cash awards of Pounds 2,500-Pounds 8,000 to 120 or so selected schools, in addition to practical guidance, professional support, teachers' materials and resource packs.

Judges will include Shadow Education Secretary David Blunkett, MP and Chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Sir Ron Dearing.

Schools will be required to justify their projects in terms of learning outcomes and personal development. The Churchfields scheme is described by headmaster Edwin Smith as a learning experience for everyone involved, and one of the best value schemes they have undertaken. Staff, who were not allowed to give practical help, "were astonished at what the youngsters could achieve".

"The project had educational and social benefits," he says. "Pupils had to identify a need, devise a solution, plan and implement it and evaluate it. Most important, it built self-esteem, which is for us a prerequisite of anything academic."

The scheme is open to all secondary schools, sixth-form colleges and special schools in England, Scotland and Wales, with pupils aged 11 and over.

The closing date for applications is April 3. Entry forms from Kallaway Ltd, 2 Portland Road, Holland Park, London W11 4LA. Tel: 071-221 7883 Carolyn O'Grady

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