If you're going to change the world, do something little now

Miranda Fettes

In the colourful harbour town of Tobermory, pupils are fired up to bring an end to ignorance and intolerance. The 5-18 school on Mull is imprinting equality issues and open-minded attitudes in its pupils and staff, and putting a Scottish island on the map at the same time.

The headteacher of Tobermory High is a passionate advocate of equality and its place at the heart of education. The school held its fifth annual Equal Futures event last term, and Jenny Des Fountain is already planning next year's.

Two student councils went to a national Equal Futures conference in Glasgow, run by Children in Scotland, the then Scottish Executive and the Commission for Racial Equality, in December 2003. "Twenty youngsters from P7-S6 went to that conference and felt that all pupils should have a similar experience because they enjoyed it so much," she explains.

A working group of staff and pupils defined the aims and structure of an annual conference for every pupil to engage with issues of discrimination and prejudice and celebrate diversity and living in a multicultural Scotland.

"We ran our first conference in 2004 and have repeated it every year. We try slightly different focuses to keep it fresh."

Equal Futures day comes at the end of the school's international week, around St Andrew's Day. Secondary pupils choose three workshops out of 16, and secondary staff can pick two or three. P7 children have one selection, following a set programme for the rest of the day, while P1-6 follow a set programme.

Workshops cover themes such as race, disability, bullying, age, identity, gender and immigration.

Alzheimer's Scotland ran a session on caring for people with dementia, the RNIB held a workshop on living with visual impairment, the Terence Higgins Trust took a session on gender and sexuality, and Argyll Women's Aid gave a workshop on domestic issues. A former pupil and his father from an arts centre ran a songwriting workshop, YDance delivered a workshop and Mull Theatre worked with pupils and staff interested in drama. There was a session on the truth behind coffee, on delivering humanitarian aid (by the RAF) and a knitting workshop for pupils and staff to knit a blanket to donate to Oxfam for Christmas.

"If you're going to change the world, sometimes you need to do something little right now," says Ms Des Fountain.

Two senior pupils who took part in a Holocaust education trip to Auschwitz in September ran workshops on lessons to be learnt from the Holocaust and a delegate from the Holocaust Educational Trust in London came up for the day. Words like "brilliant" were used in pupils' evaluations, says Ms Des Fountain.

Another big hit was Ruby the hearing dog and her owner John Roberts, who came from the island of Luing, south of Oban, to give a session on living with hearing impairment.

HMIE noted the school's "excellent" approach to equality and fairness, following an inspection three years ago.

"It fits all of the new Curriculum for Excellence capacities but especially responsible citizens," says Ms Des Fountain. "It complements subject areas throughout the school.

"The facilitators loved the way staff and pupils were learning together and felt what made it special was that pupils were allowed to choose workshops that allowed them to choose their own ways into the issues."

Work for next year has already begun, starting with the evaluations and gathering ideas. Many of the visitors are supported by a charity base, but if speakers have to be paid, it comes out of the school budget.

The school is also talking about creating an interdisciplinary task around Equal Futures day, to prepare for it and follow up from it in areas such as social subjects.

"An interdisciplinary task creates space for a pupil to go into depth in a different subject area, as well as go into breadth on a particular theme or issue. You create a more powerful context for young people's learning if you bring it together across subjects. That's what Equal Futures does: we learn about discrimination and prejudice by writing, by dancing or singing a song - the method of learning can come from any discipline," says Ms Des Fountain.

"Once, the Western Isles enjoyed a high status of Lord of the Isles, with trading routes. We're now seen as being on the periphery. I want the pupils to understand what it means to be a global citizen at the same time as embracing their Scottishness, making us more aware about what's happening in the world and how to do our bit, even if present-day perceptions put you out on the margin."

It is a lot of work but hugely rewarding, she says. "The whole day has a real energy of its own. You have P7 right up to S6, teachers and support staff, sitting beside each other working together."

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Miranda Fettes

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