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A fun step up to the big school

THE organisers of one of the most successful attempts to engage pupils in learning are now turning their attention to the intractable problem of the transition from primary to secondary.

Their recipe? Learning and fun.

Following the success of its summer academy for secondary school pupils at its Jordanhill and john anderson campuses, Strathclyde University is giving P7 pupils a chance to ease their way into secondary education using the "stealth learning" approaches that have proved so popular with older pupils.

"Drumchapel High Xperience" (DHX), funded by the Glasgow Alliance, the city council and the university, attracted around 70 pupils from four primary schools in the area last week for three days of intense and challenging group activities designed to prepare them for life in "the big school".

In addition to the student and teacher mentors who play a key role, the Xperience is staffed by first-year and sixth-year mentors from Drumchapel High, making the event very much a community project.

Robert Ferguson, aged 16, is one of those who has volunteered to give up part of his holidays to work with the younger pupils. "My time at the summer academy convinced me of the benefits of getting young people to work together, get involved in team-building and develop communication and co-operative skills," he said.

Group-based "challenges" at Drumchapel target maths, creative writing and design as well as a number of recreation activities. The last day is taken up with a "whodunit" murder mystery in which the pupils have to interview suspects, study and evaluate the forensic evidence and name the guilty party.

Christine Percival, from the university's department of education, said:

"The programme will help to improve a whole range of skills including communication, problem-solving, decision-making, presentation and creative and critical thinking.

"Integrating primary and secondary experiences in this way is a brand new approach and we are certain it will pay dividends as the summer academy is very influential in raising educational standards."

More than 70 per cent of summer academy "graduates" gain more than five Standard grade awards at levels one or two, more than twice the national average, and "significant numbers" go into further and higher education.

Some 1,000 pupils from 130 secondary schools around Scotland are taking part in this year's "Summer Academy@Strathclyde" (S@S).

"Our approach has been described as stealth learning Ms Percival said, "because the students don't even realise that they are learning or how much they are learning."

Mark Lindsay, aged 12, from Drumry primary, liked the design challenge and creating a futuristic flying machine. "I also enjoyed meeting people from other schools," he said, "and feel that this will make it easier for me to settle down when I come here in August."

Getting to know other people was also a motivation for Laura Spence, aged 12, one of the Drumchapel High mentors, whose favourite activity was the murder mystery.

David Hedley, a teacher at Balmuildy primary in East Dunbartonshire, who has been a mentor at every summer academy since 1999, stressed the community dimension. "It is wonderful to see the coming together of the primary pupils, the first years, the upper school pupils and especially the asylum-seekers who reside in Drumchapel."

Nilofer Spingher, an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan who has become a mentor, said: "It is good for the primary 7 kids to learn about their new school. This will make it easier for them and for us."

Nilofer hopes to become an English teacher.

Ms Percival said: "Many parents are absolutely staggered by what S@S students achieve because they didn't realise their children were so talented. Learning and fun is a winning combination."

Two Glasgow secondaries and one in East Dunbartonshire have already signed up to take part next year as the programme continues to expand.

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