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Come on up and learn to succeed

John Cairney attends a graduation ceremony with a difference THERE WAS only one academic gown in sight and the graduands were undressed in T-shirts. The dean of the faculty of education wore a lounge suit and spent most of the ceremony in animated appreciation of the proceedings from a seat at the back of the hall.

The on-stage entertainment included a Michael Jackson-style moon walk and scantily dressed young ladies displayed their own fashion creations. To cap it all, the guest speaker had served a prison stretch and was seen on national television giving a socialist clenched fist salute while swearing allegiance to the Queen.

The assembly hall at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill campus had not seen a "graduation ceremony" like it. It was the culmination of a fortnight's intensive activity by 800 pupils from seven west of Scotland authorities who were there to take part in the Summer Academy@Strathclyde.

Douglas Weir, dean of the education faculty, said the academy had been a totally new experience for everyone involved and went way beyond the university's expectations. "We had hoped to raise confidence levels among those taking part and we certainly feel that this has been achieved," Professor Weir said later.

The academy was designed to motivate and support 14-year-olds to achieve their full potential in school. It offered a range of progressively difficult activities put together by university staff, 40 undergraduate mentors, or STARs ("Student Teacher Assistant Role-models"), and volunteer teachers, or "SUPERSTARS".

The pupils were introduced to three separate programmes during their two weeks. An academic programme contained a number of "mini" and "mega" challenges, including writing, engineering, design and computer activities. A support programme aimed to help them cope with academic problems. And a recreational programme involved sports, art, craft, drama and music.

One of the teacher "superstars", Robert Dalzell, principal teacher of modern languages in Abronhill High in Cumbernauld, was in charge of a group producing a French language tourist video of Glasgow. "This has been an excellent opportunity for the pupils to apply their knowledge of language in a practical way and to learn about video production techniques," Mr Dalzell said.

Linda Campbell, principal guidance teacher at Smithycroft Secondary in Glasgow, said that "to a person" the pupils had had a great time, worked hard and met children from other areas. "The way the challenges have been presented has required an active participation and contribution from every pupil. This proved very important in developing personal and social skills."

Some of her near neighbours from All Saints Secondary were in full agreement. Danielle Sproull, aged 15, said meeting new friends had been a highlight for her, as well as "making university look very interesting".

Tom Toal, also 15, proudly displayed a space-age shoe his group had designed and produced. As an ambitious young footballer, he especially enjoyed the recreational programme.

The guest speaker at the "graduation" was Glasgow MSP Tommy Sheridan (above). Stressing the importance of continuing education, Mr Sheridan said the diverse range of activities would equip the students to make better career choices.

The university's Schools and Colleges Liaison Service will keep in touch over the next three years with newsletters and invitations to university events.

Funding of pound;350,000, was provided by the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the seven local authorities, local enterprise companies, Strathclyde University and a number of private donors.

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