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Pals at work, rest and play

A friendship squad and playground activity zones have been set up at one primary to keep peace, reports Karen Shead

Eleven-year-old Sean Thomson proudly pulls his sash out of his pocket and holds it up. The royal blue ribbon has a circular badge in the middle of it which identifies him as a Parsy Pal.

Sean is one of a team of 80 who work as a friendship squad, looking out for other children in the playground at Parson's Green Primary in Edinburgh.

"It's a good idea," says Sean, who has just finished his first break-time on duty. "We help people out if they are hurt or on their own.

"We are there to help," says fellow Pal Iain MacKay, "but if there's a fight we're not to get involved as we might get hurt as well. It says in our handbook that we have to tell a supervisor."

The Parsy Pals had to apply for their positions and were interviewed. "They asked us lots of questions and I was a bit nervous," admits Sean, "but it is a good thing to do." After being offered the jobs, they were given training.

Iain explains that the playground has been divided into different zones - a quiet area, a crazy zone to run around in, football areas, another games zone and an infants' patch - and that each Pal monitors a specific one.

"If anybody is lonely you can try to get them to play a game. If some people are playing football and one person is unhappy because no one is passing the ball to him, we can talk to people and ask them to involve that person," he says.

The Parsy Pals and playground zoning are part of a new approach the school is taking towards break-time activities.

Depute headteacher Jean Gardner says: "We have a large playground that goes around the school and children often run around it, which can be disruptive. So we decided to look at how we would manage the playground."

In September 2002 questionnaires were sent out to all the children to find out what they wanted in their playground. "We had 350 replies. We then set up a School Grounds Pupil Council, with a representative from each P3 class and up. They transferred information between us and the class and helped to collate it.

"Some people wanted to be quiet, whereas others wanted to run about, so we tried to work out how we could meet all of their needs. And once we had enough areas, we worked with the playground supervisors, children and janitor to make it a reality."

The plan was to develop the school grounds for learning and teaching as well as play and the aim was to involve parents, community pupils and staff. A Parsy Grounds Group was formed, representing all the interested groups.

There are maps around the school identifying how the playground has been divided into different areas. When the weather improves, painting will begin on the ground to highlight the boundaries.

In the quiet zone children can sit and read a book, talk with others or be on their own. Mrs Gardner says: "Having the quiet area allows children to feel as if they are joining in, yet be quiet at the same time. Before they might have felt as if they weren't joining in.

"Some children think that because it's break time everybody should be running around, but now they can feel OK about wanting some quiet time."

The crazy zone is where children are encouraged to run around and play. In the games zone, equipment such as skipping ropes and parachutes is available; and there are football zones for different age groups.

The infants also have their own area featuring three wooden mushrooms for children who are feeling lonely to sit on.

Mrs Gardner explains: "We are going to have a friendship bench for the older ones and the three mushrooms for the younger ones. If children are on their own they might sit on them and the Parsy Pals can go over and check they are OK.

"The Parsy Pals are a way of making sure that what happens in the playground is safe and that children are happy."

There is a box outside Mrs Gardner's room so that if any Parsy Pal has a worry they can post it in there and staff will meet them to discuss the issue.

"I want the playground to be a healthy place," Mrs Gardner says. "Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland is going to come to the school soon and paint six games on the playground and spend a day teaching the games to the children.

"We'll also have another training session for the Parsy Pals after half-term.

"This is terrific training for the playground supervisors and it is raising their profile in school. It's good to have them more involved."

Playground supervisor Tracey Gray agrees. "The scheme gives the children responsibility and helps us out at the same time. It will help us to know what's going on; they will be our ears to an extent. If we are at one end of the playground and something happens at the other end, they can tell us what happened. It will help the children and at the end of the day that's what it's all about."

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