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Community building on the way up

Estelle Maxwell reports on one school's answer to the advance of `yob culture'. Staff at Grangetown primary school in Cleveland knew all about the emergence of the "yob culture" long before Prime Minister John Major coined his snappy sound-bite.

However, they were not content simply to condemn. Instead, they launched a pioneering community-based scheme aimed at helping today's pupils become caring adults who make a positive contribution to society. Grangetown began the first phase of its Junior Citizenship Award this term.

The 300-pupil school is in a Middlesbrough suburb that has been branded a trouble spot, with all the attendant problems of social and economic deprivation. Very few parents are in full-time work, 66 per cent of pupils are on free school meals and levels of significant and serious crime have been rising for some time in the community.

In common with many north-eastern towns dependent on heavy industry, Middlesbrough is suffering from decline. Many of its manual workers feature in the long-term unemployment statistics, and the staff are keen to raise pupils' expectations, which they describe as "low".

Just over a year ago the local press reported that teams of vigilantes were roaming Grangetown's streets: "Things down here were very unpleasant," admitted headteacher Anne Johnson.

"At one point we had families moving out because their windows were being put through. People were being victimised but were too frightened to go to the police."

She said although the behaviour of the majority of pupils was good during the school day, staff became concerned that some were involved in anti-social behaviour at night, such as nuisance calls to the fire brigade.

Deputy head Jim King added: "We were also picking up things in school, overhearing pupils talking about kids who knew where the burnt-out cars were - some were stripping cars when they were burnt out. And although we knew the pupils were not taking drugs, they were very aware of the drug culture so we felt we had to act to make them aware of social behaviour beyond the school gate."

Backed by parents keen to see their children develop a positive attitude towards the local community, the staff held a brainstorming session to find ways to motivate Year 5 and 6 pupils and help them recognise they had rights but also responsibilities.

"We wanted them to have the knowledge and skills to be able to make decisions and become independent young adults who contribute to a healthy society, " said Jim King.

The citizenship award was the result. Teachers have created 20 modules for this term's pilot scheme, which runs on the equivalent of one afternoon a week, with some modules being taught after school. Each module lasts for four to five weeks and has clearly defined criteria which must be met through a mixture of teacher assessment and practical work.

Topics include: the first aid One Cross award; the Church in the community; police and the community; child care; pet care; safe play; litter and the environment. The emphasis is on stretching pupils' experience beyond their immediate environment and capturing their imagination.

Children collect a certificate for each module they complete. Finishing a series of modules - the number has yet to be decided - will qualify them for the junior citizenship award, to be presented next July by Mo Mowlam, the local MP.

Within weeks the scheme has raised morale among children, parents and staff. The child care and first aid options have been especially popular with pupils. As word has spread, the school has received requests from other community teams for information.

Though the citizenship sessions have a serious message, they are also fun, as pupils taking part in a St John Ambulance tutorial on first aid discovered. After watching a video on how to come to the aid of a road accident victim, they joined in a question-and-answer session on how to assess the situation, make the victim safe, give emergency aid, and get help. Then they split into pairs to put techniques into practice.

"Victim" Judith Mooney lay in the recovery position on the classroom floor issuing instructions to first-aider Suzie Cottrell through gritted teeth: "Ya haven't done me leg right. Not me left one, me right one."

Despite the pressure involved in trying to absorb a a lot of factual information there was no doubt the pupils had enjoyed the experience.

"I really enjoy these classes and it is good to know you might be able to save someone's life some day," said Suzie.

Later that afternoon, 10 pupils went to the local community health centre to see babies being screened and monitored to learn how they and develop in their early years.

The school nurse explained what equipment was used to monitor physical development, how babies were stimulated through visual displays, and talked pupils through the babies' personal health books.

The arrival of three-week-old Carley Jackson was met by a series of ooohs and aaahs as children gathered to watch her being weighed, noting how she cried when separated from her mother.

When it was one-year-old Bethany Doble's turn, they observed how her older brother Thomas sat happily in a play-pen with toys, leaving his mother to focus her attention on her baby.

Gemma Mealing, 10, who wants to be a nurse, watched intently as two-week-old Sebastian Connor was weighed and measured. "I find it interesting to see what equipment is used and what to do," she said.

Reception and Year 1 teacher Ann Marshall said: "Most of our pupils come from quite big families with younger brothers and sisters and they are astute about safety.

"Through this module they will learn about care and control of babies. Then they will learn about caring and controlling the school's five-year-olds through a series of placements in our nursery, reception and Year 1 classes. "

Although Anne Johnson stressed that the programme was under development before John Major's "yob culture" speech, it has proved timely. "We were warned we might be accused of being politically naive," Mrs Johnson said. "We did not want to appear patronising, we really wanted to raise the awareness and aspirations of our children."

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