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Bold assertion

Roddy Renfrew sees pupils learn the team spirit to become prefects.

Ten senior prefects from Perth Grammar School recently completed a three-day team-building course run by Perth College. Consisting of a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, the course aimed to help this year's senior prefects develop the skills they would need in their new role.

In the grammar school the senior prefects are in charge of teams that carry out a wide variety of duties. The job of "managing" fellow pupils can be daunting at first. We were looking for a way of helping them with this transition and were very grateful for the offer of assistance from Perth College.

Tom Bishop of the college, who has considerable experience in running team-building courses, worked with the school to devise a series of activities that would allow the prefects to learn how to work together. Initially he planned a two-day course; this was later extended to include a one-day follow-up session to review progress.

The indoor elements of the course dealt with learning styles and problem solving skills, using techniques such as might be used in a typical management training or personal effectiveness course.

The outdoor part of the course, held on Perth's Kinnoull Hill, was designed to be fun as well as challenging and resembled a cross between The Crystal Maze and It's a Knockout.

This section forced the prefects to find out how well they worked together. From building makeshift bridges to finding "lost" participants these activities required co-operation, communication and assertiveness. As one prefect said, "the course was fun and it showed us how to work as a group".

Communication within the group emerged as one of the main skills that the young people wanted to develop. This in turn led to the need for openness and for being positive when it came to expressing ideas and opinions. Group discussions revealed that some of the prefects felt unable to state their views comfortably. They also carried some resentment toward those who too eagerly assumed the role of leader, and acted without feeling any need to consult others.

These were difficult issues to resolve. Tom Bishop introduced them to the idea of assertiveness using role play and other activities showing them how to express their ideas, especially when handling disagreements. He said, "they found that, properly applied, assertiveness was useful in enabling them to avoid potential conflict and the difficulties of misrepresenting themselves. "

The prefects felt the course had helped them to develop as a team. One girl said: "Before, we didn't really talk properly about the things we had to do but now we can." This was a view shared by all of the group.

Back at school, the prefects decided to have more regular meetings to plan and review their work. Indeed, one of the early meetings involved a frank exchange of opinions, showing that the overall level of assertiveness had been considerably increased.

Following the success of the course, Perth College has provided a similar one for the guidance staff of the grammar school, with equally positive results. The school also intends to offer the course to next year's senior prefects.

I think we have learned a lot from this exercise concerning how senior pupils work together, their strengths, their concerns and their opinions. Overall it has greatly improved communication between the prefects and the staff and has, I believe, given us a more effective team of senior prefects.

Roddy Renfrew is deputy headteacher of Perth Grammar School.

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