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Finding a voice through radio

Among this year's P7s at Coaltown of Balgonie Primary, in Fife, is a girl whom most of her class has never heard speak. As an elective mute, she has kept her own counsel from her first day.

Earlier this year, though, her chums were able to listen to her talk on a radio programme she made at home with her father.

The school is involved in a pilot project with Radiowaves, a Bett award-winning initiative that lets schools set up radio stations in a safe web-based environment.

It was started by the Out of School Hours service, which caters for Auchmuty High in Glenrothes and its nine feeder primaries. It has been running in the schools since October 2005 and the children have already made a long list of programmes, including a report on the death of Alexander III, one on the move to secondary school, another on a trip to France and a review of Roald Dahl's Matilda.

"Once it arrived, you couldn't keep it out of the school day," says Alison Wright, the headteacher at Coaltown of Balgonie Primary and chair of the Auchmuty cluster. "The children wanted to use it all the time."

As well as providing an exciting medium to work in, it has helped the pupils to develop key skills.

"You have to be really organised," says Katy Proctor, who is one of five Coaltown of Balgonie Primary pupils trained to edit and transfer any recordings to the Radiowaves website. "You've got to have the music, the interview planned, be able to ask questions and then know how to edit it."

Listening and talking are fundamental skills of any radio journalist, while interviewing and presenting help to build confidence. Mrs Wright reports a greater willingness in the children now to go and talk to people they might otherwise shy away from.

"It has made me much more confident to speak out," says Rikki Jenkins, another pupil editor. "I used to stutter a lot, but doing this has helped and I don't so much now."

The project was inexpensive to set up, says Mrs Wright. The initial kit - an MP3 player, microphone and cables in a case, cost pound;200. "Each school has bought one."

Fife Council negotiated the annual licence fee to be part of Radiowaves network, which allows the school to post programmes on the internet. It also covers full training and technical support.

"The system is so easy to use," says Peter Wright, the Out of School Hours learning co-ordinator in Fife. "That is what has made this so successful.

The technology is not complicated and we could all use it after one day's training. Plus, it never goes wrong. In a year, we've only had one cable replaced."


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