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A can-do approach has pupils trying harder

"I can't imagine school without Columba," says 13-year-old Danielle Slater, reflecting on the residential leadership programme that has become a big part of life at Lossiemouth High.

Although initially sceptical about Columba 1400's often physical challenges - she failed to see how kayaking or scrambling over boulders would teach her anything - Danielle can now reel off a long list of benefits.

"My behaviour has improved a lot," she says. "I've got more patience, I try harder. My confidence is higher, I'm more focused on my work."

She tends to put herself forward for more things, chips in her friend Megan Staniforth: "You get involved in more - even just putting your hand up in class."

The values of Columba 1400 - which is based on Skye and was formed in 1997 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of St Columba's mission to Scotland - are about more than bringing out the best in individuals. The programme also stresses the importance of contributing to one's community.

Another of the school's S2 pupils, Ollie Saville, 14, is acutely aware of this. He feels "privileged" to have benefited from Columba 1400 and feels "a responsibility to share that with others".

Ollie, Danielle and Megan are all involved in passing on what they have gained to Primary 7 pupils. Much of their confidence in taking on this role comes from having been taught themselves by fellow pupils.

"I was a bit worried that we weren't going to learn so much, because teachers can put things into words and make them stick - but the pupils did very well," recalls Ollie.

"You tend to listen more," adds Danielle. "You'd feel really bad if you didn't listen because they're friends, and you tend to listen to them more than teachers. We know them more as people."

When it came to interviewing and selecting the pupils from four feeder schools for places on Columba 1400, they had a clear idea of what a successful candidate would be like.

"We weren't looking for people who said 'I can already do this'," says Megan. "We were looking for people who were shy and would like to boost their confidence."

Columba 1400 also forges a strong sense of community between teachers and pupils, as the programme blurs any sense of hierarchy and lets pupils get to know their teachers by their first names.

"You're not just sitting and listening - you become a lot friendlier with the teachers," says Danielle. "You've got more confidence with a teacher you know."

Rosemary McGhee, depute head, who took part in the programme, is impressed with the pupils' progress: "There is confidence, in terms of being able to stand up in front of a whole assembly, which most of them would never have done beforehand. There's also more perseverance in doing things in school - trying a bit harder to see things through."

The can-do attitude and confidence fostered by Columba 1400 permeates Lossiemouth High, and the benefits have been noticed outside school.

"The feedback from parents has been very good," says Brenda Gifford, the headteacher. "Their children were listening far more, being more considerate at home.

"What they have described is their children having had a life-changing experience that has impacted on their family life."

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