Renounce bigotry and discover harmony

Entrenched sectarian attitudes in Scotland are being challenged by projects which foster co-operation between schools from opposing sides of the religious divide. Elizabeth Buie reports

a new guide on twinning denominational and non-denominational schools could help build bridges between communities and help eradicate sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland.

The focus of any twinning project need not be sectarianism - it could easily be curricular, such as classes in each school studying the same book at the same time, or forming a joint football team. Others are linked to broader themes and activities, such as the eco-school agenda, health initiatives or justice and peace weeks.

The guide has been endorsed by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and the Reverend Ewan Aitken, former education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and now leader of Edinburgh City Council.

Robert Brown, the Deputy Education Minister, said twinning could help schools break down barriers and give people the opportunity to build friendships.

The publication, launched last week to coincide with a seminar on sectarianism led by the First Minister, includes top tips on how to get started, and examples of good practice.

Joint camera project Photography workshops were held for 24 pupils from four schools: two non-denominational, one denominational, and one special-needs primary in the SmithycroftSt Andrew's New Learning Community in the east end of Glasgow.

The pupils took pictures of things they felt represented religious bigotry and hatred in their community, as well as local buildings, people and sites which reflected both positive and negative aspects of different religions.

They also interviewed local people and did internet research before putting on an exhibition at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow.

The report states: "The project helped pupils... realise that being in separate schools is not a barrier to friendship and religious tolerance.

The work also met the criteria for promoting A Curriculum for Excellence and met all five national priorities in education.

"The local community benefited from the work of the children as they conveyed a clear message that there is no room for religious intolerance in their community."

It added: "Gathering 24 children from four schools for workshops was a tall order. However, these obstacles were overcome through the organisational and management skills of the project co-ordinator and teachers involved.

Planning and sticking to deadlines were also very important."

Joint brass band The music departments of Kilmarnock Academy and nearby St Joseph's Academy have a joint brass band of 45 pupils. It performs locally and at regional level, and this summer went on tour in the Lake Garda area of Italy.

Harry Ayre, the instrumental teacher for brass in both schools, recognised that by bringing players from each school together they could create a successful band. The joint band has been performing for 10 years, with growing success.

"Meeting new people, developing friendships and working towards our next challenge have all helped to keep momentum going," said a spokesman for the band.

The report adds: "The pupils benefit from a sense of teamwork and achievement, and of recognition of their success in the band. The joint band has also raised the schools' profiles in the community. Pupils in both schools consider the band to be 'their' band - it therefore promotes a good relationship between the two schools."

Joint senior prom Senior pupils from two special schools - Hollybrook School and St Oswald's Secondary in Glasgow - got together to organise a joint senior prom. The joint planning committee was involved in all stages of the preparations, including booking a venue, planning menus, making and selling tickets, and raising funds.

Over a period of six months the pupils took part in workshops in each other's schools, allowing them to develop an understanding of sectarianism and territorialism. "Both of these issues needed to be overcome if the prom was to be a success," says the twinning report.

The dance, on June 1 this year, was attended by 55 pupils who arrived by limousine, enjoyed a wonderful buffet, and danced the night away.

The project started following a discussion between a sixth-year Hollybrook pupil and the headteacher about why the school had never had a senior prom.

When Hollybrook pupils realised they were too few to have a successful prom on their own, they decided to involve pupils from the nearest special school.

Mary Farrell, the head-teacher of Hollybrook, reports that the project gave pupils the chance to celebrate their achievements, as well as bringing together youngsters who would not normally work and socialise together. It also made staff co-operate more closely.

This year, the two schools are to join forces on a musical exploring sectarianism and territorialism.

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