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Cut short as they start to speak out

Two major contributions to better behaviour and learning are at risk as funding runs out. Neil Munro and Kay Smith report.

An evaluation of the work of Young People Speak Out (YPSO), published this week, reported significant improvements in school attendance, engagement in learning and in general classroom behaviour. Yet it too faces a bleak future as funds run out.

The voluntary youth project helps secondary pupils from mainstream and special educational classes throughout the Lothians to help overcome behavioural problems by making their own videos.

Since November 1999, 407 pupils in 37 settings have taken part in a YPSO project. Of the 69 tracked for the study, more than half (53 per cent) were better behaved. Some 17 per cent showed improved school attendance and 26 per cent were learning more effectively.

Pupils were asked how they saw their classroom behaviour change as a result of being involved. Of the 123 who returned feedback forms, 63 per cent reported they felt better able to express ideas and were more confident, 68 per cent said they were now able to speak up in a group and 75 to 83 per cent reported that they could handle responsibility, take on commitments and show initiative.

YPSO's work in schools depends on a pound;230,000 community fund award that runs out this spring, and the project is now seeking alternative financing from public sector bodies and trusts.

Gwynedd Lloyd, senior lecturer in educational studies at Edinburgh University, said: "It's unfortunate that many of the projects that have been shown to be successful struggle to find funds. The smaller projects especially have to spend a disproportionate amount of their time raising money.

"It is a pity, too, that projects such as YPSO can only work with schools for a relatively short period of time. That makes it difficult to build up relations and to incorporate the lessons learnt."

Each school-based project involves weekly two-hour sessions over six to 10 weeks. Pupils come up with story lines, help write scripts and carry out production work and acting roles.

The latest videos were shown this week at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, and revealed a predilection for crime and horror stories, but also a concern for social issues such as bullying. Pete Gregson, the co-ordinator, said:

"The video works on the preoccupation they have about their image and allows them to see themselves as others might see them. They can get instant playback of their filming endeavours."

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