Our day in the news

Mike Elder reports on how a school ICT room became a newspaper office and pupils got hands-on work experience.

It's 11.15am, just after break. In the computing room at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, Sunil plucks a mobile phone out of his blazer pocket and dials. Meanwhile, Graeme and Catriona are busy trawling through a pile of the day's newspapers, and Alistair is busy constructing a "Kool Krossword". Just as Sunil gets through to Shell head office, Michael calls out: "Has anyone used the chip shop wars copy?" The three adults in the room seem remarkably uninterested in any of these activities. One is surrounded by a gaggle of S6 pupils trying to hand him their Higher English folios. The second is explaining to Ashita why her text and picture do not fit as perfectly as planned into her Publisher 2000 template. The third, a computer technician, is being interviewed about his parachuting experiences.

Meanwhile, inboxes in the temporary newsroom are filling with items being sent by computing classes and Daniel is using a digital camera to capture the scene for posterity, in fact for the NiaD (Newspaper in a Day), being created in response to The TES Newsday competition.

For the S1-S3 pupils of Robert Gordon's College, this is their second year participating in this project, which requires all kinds of skills and qualities to be displayed as well as providing them with a real-life challenge. The pupils involved miss normal classes for the day, but instead have to meet real deadlines, comment on real news and satisfy real advertisers who have paid for the privilege of advertising in the newspaper.

Failure to meet their target will not mean a poor class mark but something far worse: embarrassment, letters of apology and a very public disappointment. Success, on the other hand, will mean that all the hard graft, patience, creativity, frustration, team work, ingenuity and panic have resulted in a tangible end product of which the pupils can be proud.

On their practice day in October, they had experienced the mixed emotions surrounding the Paddington train crash and satisfaction that some parents had read about the accident first in their school newspaper.

Now it's mid March. The visit of the school inspectors the pevious day has ensured a strong lead story on the front page to complement the news of Shell's record-breaking installation of a huge refinery at sea. Amid the frenetic activity, each team is working effectively under its pupil editor, with the major concern being the tight deadline that has been imposed on the sports desk.

Last year, the section had vowed never again to rush out at lunchtime on newspaper day to do a key interview (Aberdeen Football Club's third choice goalkeeper). This resolution had lasted until Ebbe Skovdahl, Aberdeen's manager, announced that lunchtime on press day was the only time he could give an interview about Aberdeen's forthcoming cup final fixture against Celtic.

Still, at present, things seem to be going well. Shona is busy demonstrating other ICT skills through her construction of the news website, which was an option in this year's competition.

Late in the afternoon, the sports desk becomes frenzied as the Skovdahl interview is written up in time, school hockey results are telephoned in from the games field and the Internet is scoured for the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Looks Like Trouble).

By the end of the day, not only has a 30-page A3 newspaper been despatched, but also a comprehensive NiaD website has been constructed and more than 200 pupils have contributed to the production of one of 645 entries to a competition that had given pupils the invigorating experience of capturing that day's news and being part of it themselves.

Inevitably, there were moments when staff wished that they had simply stuck to ordinary classes for the day, but there was also no escaping the fact that something distinctive, remarkable and memorable had been created during the day. There were cheers of euphoria when it was known that after a mad dash the newspaper had caught the last post. What meant more than anything was a pupil later writing that this had been "the greatest day" in her life.

Mike Elder is assistant headteacher at Robert Gordon's College, AberdeenThe school won a distinction for its newspaper at a House of Commons awards ceremony this monthAnyone interested in entering next year's TES Newsday competition should contact the organiser, Brian Robinson, tel 01642 286688

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