National policy makers are promoting citizenship as the important issue of the moment. It's not a new idea but one that is crucial to impart to children if they are to play a worthwhile role in society.
Volunteer work makes a valuable contribution to citizenship. The P7 pupils at Toronto Primary in Livingston, West Lothian, held a brainstorming session and found that an amazing number of volunteers aid the school. As well as teachers, support assistants and parents, they rightly counted themselves in the list of volunteers.
Their tasks include serving in the tuck shop, delivering messages, being monitors, playground assistants, buddies to P1s and helping with paired reading. The children's self-esteem has been boosted by the school's recognition of their value as volunteers. Although the value of volunteering is emphasised at the beginning of each term, that thought is sometimes lost in the hectic school day.
Toronto Primary is lucky in that many of its staff give up their own time to run a variety of after-school clubs and activities as well as volunteering to help at school fairs and accompanying children on outings and camps.
When the school's country dancing teacher was away on maternity leave, two ladies from the Scottish Country Dancing Society came once a week to the school. They came because they wish young people to carry on the tradition.
The role of parents was investigated and pupils interviewed the chair of the school board and were impressed by her reasons for volunteering to take part. Mainly she wished to have a say in her child's education and to make it easier for teachers to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.
The range of voluntary tasks undertaken by many of the parents, from giving blood to helping in the Women's Royal Voluntary Society, was a surprise. Their value in school, assisting with reading groups, helping to make costumes for performances and accompanying classes on trips, was much appreciated. Many parents are involved in the parent-staff association and the pupils had not realised what work was involved in all that they do to raise funds, from discos and ceilidhs, fetes and book sales.
As the school is close to St John's Hospital in Livingston, the pupils investigated the input of volunteers there. A member of the teaching staff volunteers on Sunday mornings to help take patients to the hospital chapel. A small group of pupils were granted interviews with two chaplaincy visitors at the hospital.
The class also visited the WRVS tearoom and interviewed the manager and ladies who work there. The children were impressed by their dedication and vitality and their desire to put something back into the community. One lady had three different volunteer jobs.
The hospital also has its own radio station, Grapevine, which is only manned in the evening; it is computerised during the day. Two of the DJs arranged to meet the pupils on their day off from their regular work, giving the children the chance to interview them, have a go at broadcasting and choose records to play. Once again they were struck by the volunteers'
dedication, their lively chatter and their desire to try to make people feel better.
The extravert pupils were the ones who were tongue tied on air while the shyest one shone. He chatted away, displaying unusual confidence. The experience certainly boosted his self-esteem.
The children gave a report of their work to the rest of the school at assembly. The exercise was a valuable lesson in active citizenship. As well as finding out about their community, the people in it and the contribution individuals freely make, they were made aware of the good feelings people get from helping others less fortunate than themselves and the friends that can be made.
It gave them a good picture of how society functions through the interaction of human beings helping each other. It let them see how invaluable volunteers are and the extent to which our society depends on them. It also heightened appreciation of the team spirit we have at Toronto Primary and the support the school receives from the community.
sobel Elliot is depute headteacher at Toronto Primary, Livingston, West Lothian