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School is cool when the kids take centre-stage

A GET-TOGETHER of second-year pupils turned out to be part educational conference and part variety concert when, uniquely, 150 pupils from 22 Scottish authorities met in a Bellshill hotel last week.

Its emphasis on giving the youngsters their chance to organise, contribute and perform led to a light-hearted atmosphere and a series of presentations that were creative, perceptive and entertaining.

Brian Boyd, former secondary headteacher, chief adviser and now outspoken educational researcher at Strathclyde University, acted as the warm-up act and the finale involved 20 teachers doing their street cred no harm by rapping to their own composition, delivering the message that "school is cool".

Dr Boyd found no dissent when he suggested that pupils should be allowed to choose how they should learn and what discipline and rules they should be subjected to.

The conference, organised by North Lanarkshire Council, the Anti-Bullying Network and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, picked up young people's key issues such as bullying, dress codes, school design and mixed-ability classes.

Saara Campbell from Ardrossan Academy was in favour of setting in second year, especially in maths and English. She felt that mixed-ability classes "hold you back", but "we have to focus as much on the bottom set as on the top".

Alaa Alkado from Carnoustie High enjoyed getting to know teachers better, a recurring theme, but said that some second-year pupils felt like "rejects".

As one of the brains behind the event, Guy Thomson of St Margaret's High, Airdrie, felt that his efforts and those of his colleagues Jenny Orr and Christopher Henderson had been rewarded. "Perhaps it will give S2 pupils a bit of hope for the way schools will change in the future."

Andrew Mellor of the Anti-Bullying Network said the format set out a model for consulting young people, but it was important there was some response.

"We have made a commitment to ensure that what they have said will be heard by the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. If we don't do that, then the whole process of pupil participation is discredited. We have to make sure that if we make promises to kids about what will happen when they are consulted, those promises are kept," Mr Mellor said.

Michael Hall from Boroughmuir High, Edinburgh, had a more pressing appointment. He couldn't wait to tell his pals how he had seen his English teacher boogying on stage to the "school is cool" rap.


* "Can we have a bigger say in what we learn?" - Chris McDonald, Inverness Royal Academy

* "What are you doing about hiring teachers from the ethnic minorities?" - Anthony Tobin, St Ambrose High, Coatbridge

* "Should we split classes into ability groups?" - Yasmeen Kaur, Drumchapel High, Glasgow

* "Why don't schools get more money to do the things we like?" - Chevonne Lee, Inverness Royal Academy

* "Why are politicians allowed to make the rules if they have no experience of teaching?" - Paul Murray, St Columba's High, Gourock

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