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'Me-first' society set to come second

Six schools aim to show John Major and Tony Blair what duties and citizenship really mean. Antony Dore reports.

A national plan to end the "me first" culture and bring the spirit of voluntary work and good citizenship to schools will be launched next week with the backing of Education Secretary Gillian Shephard.

Peter Downes, the Secondary Heads Association president, will announce the project, called Changemakers, at the union's conference on Monday. Pupils will devise their own programmes to help the community in and around their school, with the help of business and local government.

Six pilot schools, funded with Pounds 50,000-plus from industry, have already set up schemes to build a problem-solving assault course, shop for the elderly, and write guides to local leisure facilities. Teachers have been trained and given two free periods a week to supervise the pupils with cover provided from a central fund.

Mr Downes, head of Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said: "The overall thrust of educational philosophy in recent years has been the importance of the individual, to get on and get high grades. Social responsibility and civic awareness have been underplayed. We have had a decade of rights and now we have to balance that with responsibilities."

By showing teenagers that they can make a difference to their community, their increasing sense of powerlessness and disaffection can be tackled, he added.

In her address to SHA's conference, Mrs Shephard is expected to approve Changemakers, set up by the charities Community Service Volunteers and Schools Partnership Worldwide. Values such as duty, service and community involvement have been squabbled over in recent weeks with both Prime Minister John Major and Labour leader Tony Blair claiming them as home territory.

To Mr Downes, it is important to the status of Changemakers that the teachers' time is paid (at an annual cost of Pounds 1,000 a year for one period a week). And he will insist that teachers should be paid up to Pounds 300 a year for taking sports teams and clubs at lunch times and after school. "If teachers are paid for such work then you can demand and expect so much more. But the division between curricular and extra-curricular work is itself old-fashioned. " He estimates Hinchingbrooke's budget would rise by 7 per cent if all the staff time on after-schools activities was paid.

Sixth-form and Year 11 pupils have piloted two projects at Hinchingbrooke, helped by social science teacher Mike Baker. He said the process of inventing their own scheme was challenging, but meant their sense of involvement was much greater.

Hinchingbrooke pupil Julia Watt admits that most of the 370 sixth-formers are more interested in "rights, rights, rights" than involvement in Changemakers. With three others she has planned the adventure course in a country park, collecting tyres from a local garage to build problem-solving installations. Help to level the ground next term will probably come from lower down the school. "In the sixth form, if it isn't cool you don't do it. And this isn't considered cool."

Mr Baker says: "Some people are not totally committed. One of the lessons they are learning is that people sometimes let you down. But you have to start out in small ways and hope it will develop."

Changemakers, co CSV Education, 237 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NJ.

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