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Changing lives and building confidence

If there is one school in Scotland which might test the efficacy of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award it is, possibly, Castlebrae Community High in Edinburgh, serving one of the poorest areas in the country.

Last year, when it was considering how to use the award to help raise attainment levels, Mike Falconer, the depute head, did not set himself the easiest of challenges. He selected 11 of the most difficult pupils in the Craigmillar area, using focused criteria.

The school decided that the S3 pupils who could benefit most were those with a history of some exclusions which were in danger of escalating, and who were "off target" in a significant number of subjects. They would have to maintain an attendance rate of above 75 per cent and be willing to commit to the award beyond school hours.

Mr Falconer took a modest view of their prospects. In the event, seven stayed the course and he reports that "a positive group dynamic" was established. Only one student was excluded for five days (twice). All bar one of the seven were off-target in fewer subjects in April this year, compared with last year.

A similar initiative operates in two other Edinburgh secondary schools, Balerno Community High and St Augustine's High.

Bob Hope, one of the directors of Friends of the Award, which acts akin to a parent teacher association to support the schools involved, has a simple view of what the award is all about. "I see it as changing lives," he says.

Mr Hope is no stranger to many of the difficult behaviours of teenagers: he is a retired police inspector who was in charge of crime reduction in Edinburgh. "It's really the same side of the fence," he says.

He believes the initiative is working very well. "The fact that we're into the second year speaks for itself," he says.

"The youngsters themselves made the decisions about what options they wanted, which is probably the first time they had made real decisions in their lives, not to mention the commitment they have shown."

The benefits of the initiative have not just flowed to the pupils, he points out. "Prior to the youngsters' involvement with the award, a lot of the teachers just didn't want to get involved with them; they didn't want to know. Now, we find that they want to help out, whether it is volunteering to go skating or taking part in the physical activities or going on the expedition. So it has led to more positive relationships between teachers and pupils."

Even in the relatively more affluent area served by Balerno High, Isobel Forbes, who is responsible for discipline in S3, reports that she is spending less time on discipline than before .

Mr Hope says the end result speaks for itself. "The youngsters leave school with confidence in their own abilities, with their heads up, rather than down."

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