How do you get reluctant students excited about subjects such as ICT, music, product design and finance? For a group of schools in Midlothian, the answer was simple: ask them to produce and perform their own pop songs and music videos.
The M Factor project was awarded the prize for delivering excellence by local authorities body Cosla at the organisation's annual Excellence Awards last month. Judges praised the scheme for having "a clear feel-good factor".
The initiative was created in response to the low rate of school-leavers going on to education, work or training in Midlothian. The area is also home to some of Scotland's poorest communities. The M Factor sought to make education relevant for children who might otherwise have struggled to see the point.
P7 classes in 28 schools spent several hours a week on the pound;12,000 project. Teachers took a back seat as children made the decisions, with help from outside experts including folk singer Karine Polwart. Classes held auditions for singers, dancers and actors, designed logos and CD covers, wrote lyrics and recorded original music.
They also filmed and edited videos, designed merchandise, created websites and promoted their songs through a mobile radio station. Songs were posted online so that children around Scotland could choose their favourites. After 7,000 votes, the top six schools went through to a grand final where their videos were shown on the big screen in front of an audience of 400.
Considerable staff training was required as few teachers had experience of music production, video editing or website design. They said they had learned from the children, too, who tended to be more confident with the technology. Midlothian now has 28 teachers well-versed in digital technology for future projects, including an ongoing programme similar to the M Factor but built around films rather than pop videos. The council said the hands-on experience of digital media cost pound;17 per child.
Songs tended to have grand themes such as saving the world, international friendship and space exploration. The winning team came from Roslin Primary School, with their girl band, Wandererz, triumphing over rival bands including Storm, Scotty Dugs, Six Pac and Pink Gossip. Teacher Laura Cameron said the highlight was "the excitement and enthusiasm when the pupils actually saw what they had produced on the big screen".
She added: "There were so many different opportunities to grow their knowledge and their skills. But one girl said, `This doesn't feel like work.' "
Georgia Jones, from the winning team, said: "Although our teacher Mrs Cameron was great, she's also tone deaf, so we couldn't really rely on her advice when it came to writing music.
"The M Factor helped to give me confidence to speak to 400 people and a panel of judges at the grand final. These are skills I will need after I leave school and go to university or get a job."
Alan Wait, Midlothian's schools group manager, said: "Midlothian is moving from a reliance on traditional industry such as coal mining, to leading-edge technologies such as the world-renowned science parks at Roslin.
"We need our schools to provide educational experiences that help our young people to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes required for life and work in a rapidly changing world."
Ms Cameron said that children were showing enthusiasm for the film project, covering topics such as zombie invasions and an alternative history depicting William Wallace and Robert the Bruce feuding in 21st-century Scotland.