Firm vote for democracy

Role-playing and enterprise projects are giving children a sense of social and political responsibility, reports Judy Mackie

On a small island, a republic is born. The citizens have elected a president and a parliament they believe will best represent the interests of all members of their society. Their Utopia is blighted when a wealthy food processor, whose factory employs many and whose products feed most of the community, dumps chemicals into the island's main river. This comes to light when the animals in an open air aquarium fall sick. What's to be done?

Aquarium owner and MP Sam Mitchell, aged 10, steps off the papier mache island in the gym of Kingswells Primary, in Aberdeen, to summarise the outcome of the role-play scenario.

"The community complained to their MPs, the factory owner was sacked and the animals were sent to the vet to get fixed," she says.

This satisfying solution concluded the P6 pupils' environmental studies project. Creating an island has formed a core element of their citizenship programme for the past three years.

It has involved a series of dramatised sessions during which the children created an imaginary society, voted for their ideal form of government and determined their own roles as citizens within the community. They then built the island, marking the location of houses, civic buildings and workplaces. Finally, they invented and acted out a storyline which challenged them to understand their rights and to address issues using democratic processes.

In P7, the citizenship programme's scope broadens to examine how communities operate within a European and global context.

Sam's role has opened her eyes to a world of complexities and responsibilities. "We had a pound;1 million budget and as an MP I found it very hard to decide how much should go towards health and how much should be put towards other services," she says.

The power of voting and euphoria of winning an election have made a strong impression and she is definitely going to use her vote when she is older, Sam says.

Voting has figured strongly in another area of the school's citizenship programme: an enterprise project involving P2 pupils. In setting up the Kingswells Tiddlers' Club, a company to manage and produce a concert for the community, the children made democratic decisions at each stage of the process, from choosing the name and logo to calculating how much to charge for tickets.

The six-and seven-year-olds were also involved in raising sponsorship from local businesses, including a pizza parlour. Having raised pound;430 so far, the children have elected to buy books for the infants' library.

Class teacher Shonaid Macdonald says that in addition to teaching enterprise skills and helping the youngsters understand the importance of working together as a team, the cross-curricular project has made them more aware of the different needs and interests of individuals in the community.

"One of the things we talked about was why we should charge older people less for a ticket," she explains.

These projects are only two of a range of citizenship activities - both curricular, delivered through environmental studies and personal and social education classes, and extra-curricular, involving the strongly proactive pupil council - which are now embedded within the school ethos.

Headteacher Anne Kerr says the school's citizenship programme is constantly evolving and improving, shaped by feedback from the staff, pupils and parents. She is delighted the school is among the case studies profiled on the Learning and Teaching Scotand website.

"The website is an excellent resource. Visitors will discover many new ideas, but there are also lots of examples that most teachers will identify as already happening in their school and the website could well give them further inspiration for taking them forward," she says.


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