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Clan gathering set to be a hell of a homecoming

Thousands will assemble for The Gathering, a huge meeting of the clans. Schools make their contribution to this landmark event.

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Thousands will assemble for The Gathering, a huge meeting of the clans. Schools make their contribution to this landmark event.

Halfway through the summer holidays, thousands of Scots and people of Scottish ancestry will descend on Edinburgh for the first Gathering of the clans in the capital since 1822. Up to 30,000 people are expected for the two-day event (July 25-26), which is being billed as a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of Scottish culture, contemporary and traditional.

It is also a major highlight of Homecoming Scotland 2009, the Scottish Government's marketing campaign to tug on the heart strings of Scots at home and abroad. Ticket holders will be able to watch the World Championship Highland Games, listen to live music, wander round the clan village and participate in tugs-of-war, whisky tasting and even an oatcake race.

But while some organisers have been dashing around frantically dealing with logistics - such as ensuring the procession up to the castle, involving 8,000 clan members and pipe bands, goes smoothly - others have been quietly rolling out an ambitious schools programme.

"Working with schools and the community was a quintessential part of the planning for The Gathering," explains Martin Hutchison, leading project worker on the programme. "Homecoming 2009 was launched to coincide with the anniversary of Robert Burns's birth, and the planning has been going on for years. It's all about celebrating what it is to be Scottish. As far as we're concerned, involving young people has been a key part of the whole programme."

Mr Hutchison can be rightly proud of a programme that includes taking the Highland Games to schools, providing storytelling sessions, Scottish country dancing lessons and an international poetry competition. But Edinburgh is not the only local authority to embrace Homecoming.

Schools and councils throughout the country, galvanised by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), have been rallying to the cry, with hundreds of projects linked into A Curriculum for Excellence.

Audrey Kellacher, a teacher from Crown Primary in Inverness, has been seconded to LTS for two years to be its national education development officer for Homecoming. She started in February and has since led a series of seminars and continuing professional development sessions around the country.

The first event came early in her tenure, when teachers, cultural co- ordinators, quality control officers and Homecoming co-ordinators from local authorities were brought together for a one-day conference.

"It was a real opportunity to engage with people from different fields, not just education," Mrs Kellacher says. "This whole project is about creating a legacy that everyone can use."

The conference was followed by four international education masterclasses, organised regionally, for the 32 local authorities. However, Mrs Kellacher's remit goes beyond just Homecoming.

"It is the start of a celebration of Scotland and focuses on our culture and heritage, getting pupils to have a sense of Scotland and a sense of identity and belonging within the wider world. It's about global education," she explains.

"But we don't want it to stop on November 30, when Homecoming is finished. We want it to be the start and to run on through to the Commonwealth Games (in 2014) and the Olympics (in 2012)."

To encourage and support schools and local authorities, LTS added a Homecoming section to its website, with opportunities to upload examples of good practice. In January, as Homecoming was launched, there were 33 uploaded examples; by May there were nearly 300.

Examples include Aberdeenshire, which has been running a programme of heritage fairs, using cross-curricular activities to drive pupils' learning about Scotland. Encouraging schools to explore and present their learning in this way has helped them achieve many aims of A Curriculum for Excellence.

At Kirkintilloch High, S1 pupils have produced a book showcasing their town, with contributions by local artists.

Dunoon Grammar has been creating a television channel, DGS TV, featuring news, views, interviews, competitions and music acts, which is shown on plasma screens within the school. They also persuaded Dougie MacLean, who wrote the Homecoming anthem Caledonia, to let them use the song in their recreation of the Homecoming advert for the station, which features images of Dunoon.

LTS has also been promoting the formation of networks, a process begun at the masterclasses earlier this year. Other groups are being encouraged to participate, and a series of Glow Meets (online gatherings set up through Scotland's national school intranet) have been arranged. These include promoting networks for those who teach pupils with English as a second language and the development of books on Scots phrases and poetry.

The Scottish Education Awards this year also had a specific Homecoming category, which was won by Iochdar Primary in South Uist.

All four finalists demonstrated inventive approaches to studying the culture and heritage of Scotland. Dunoon Grammar created the TV channel mentioned above, while pupils at Dallas Primary in Moray produced 150 "Inspiring Scots" Top Trumps-style cards, detailing Scots' contributions to the world, and a "365 Reasons to Come Home to Dallas" calendar for former pupils. Mearns Castle High in East Renfrewshire organised a Scottish-based quiz and held a Burns Supper for guests from the community, while Iochdar used Census Scotland research and data to study emigration from Scotland.

Meanwhile, in the capital, schools have embraced the theme of Homecoming independently of The Gathering, holding ceilidhs and running ambitious projects. Prospect Bank Primary and Pilrig Park School organised a cross- cluster art exhibition, and the Drummond High cluster piloted its new literacy outcomes and experiences during a Scottish-themed week.

But the focus for many schools in Edinburgh has been The Gathering and the celebration of the clans.

"The theme of the community programme is The Gathering, which is all about promoting and celebrating the contribution the clans have made to the history, heritage and culture of Scotland," Mr Hutchinson says. "But the programme will also explore the notion of identity and celebrate the diversity of cultures in a 21st-century Scotland."

The schools programme was launched in early May and ran until the end of June, when Liberton Primary ran its own Highland Games, helped by two of Scotland's most famous "heavy" athletes: Jamie Barr, Scotland's strongest man; and reigning Scottish Highland Games champion Bruce Robb.

One of the earliest events was a link with the Edinburgh Airport Youth Games, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. About 1,600 pupils gathered across various Edinburgh leisure venues to sample a wide selection of sports, but they came as clans rather than schools, with lots of face paint on show.

"We made a huge shield to represent our clan," says Olivia Yule, from Clan Abernethy. "We decided to call ourselves Abernethy because we'd all been there. We're really from Deanpark Primary in Balerno."

The opening ceremony, at Meadowbank Stadium, was led by Mr MacLean singing the ubiquitous Caledonia.

"It was amazing - 1,600 children all joining in with Dougie. It was a fantastic start," says Ingrid Ramsay, sports co-ordinator at Bruntsfield Primary in Edinburgh.

Later in the day, when the pupils began to congregate back at the stadium after taking part in a diverse range of sports from shinty to climbing, they were given the opportunity to try out some of the traditional heavy sports associated with the Highland Games. Guided by Mr Barr and Mr Robb, kilted and huge, the students were able to toss the caber, throw the stone, hammer and weight for distance and even, if they could, lift the 100lb-plus Manhood stone.

Lewis Butcher, a P7 from Clan Kirkliston, says: "I tried lifting the big stone, but I couldn't even get it off the ground. You are supposed to lift it up on to a barrel."

Few could, although Calum Hoad, an S1 from Forresters High, managed to lift, throw and split the junior caber in half.

"The man said they didn't grow on trees," says a sceptical Calum, obviously unsure if "the man" - David Webster, an ex-champion wrestler and now promoter of the World Highland Games - was joking or not.

Another element to Edinburgh's schools programme was the international poetry competition. Taking The Gathering as its theme, it was divided into three categories, for under-12s, 12-15s and 15-17s, and offered free tickets to the two-day event. The Scottish Poetry Library took part and the judges included author Alexander McCall Smith and Ron Butlin, Edinburgh City Makar (poet laureate).

"We had entries from all over Scotland and some of them have been stunning, especially among the 12-15 group," says Juliet Rees, the library's education officer. "While the adult entries, which came from as far as Canada and America, tended to focus on the clans, the young people were much more inventive, talking about various types of gatherings and their impact."

The rest of the schools programme, such as the LTS interactive map of good practice, attracted mainly primary schools.

"We did offer it to secondary schools, but timetable complexities make it difficult to get into them, so most events have been designed for primary," Mr Hutchison says.

Accordingly, the main focus has been storytelling, geography and Scottish dance. The Gathering recruited storytellers and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society to run taster sessions in schools. It also linked up with Mapland Scotland to take its 167-piece jigsaw of the country, which provides pupils with an interactive programme on the history and geography of the clans of Scotland, around schools.

Beyond Edinburgh, schools have been continuing uploading their activities on to the interactive pages of the LTS website. This will provide a long- lasting catalogue of good practice for other schools to use, ensuring that Homecoming is not just a one-off marketing campaign but a lasting legacy for the benefit of schools and others.

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