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Sectarian? We learn it from adults

A trip to a Polish death camp is only one way pupils in Coatbridge have tackled race. Raymond Ross reports

A groundbreaking project to combat religious prejudice and sectarianism in North Lanarkshire has scored two big successes in the past year: a pupil-led, inter-schools conference last June, then a visit to Auschwitz in November.

The Religious Intolerance Youth Conference brought together 32 mainly senior pupils from the five Coatbridge high schools - Coatbridge, St Ambrose, Columba, Rosehall and St Patrick's - to discuss what it means to be Catholic, Protestant and Muslim. The visit to Auschwitz was used to emphasise the consequences of racial and religious intolerance and to stress the relevance of the Holocaust to contemporary society.

"The Try2gether Religious Intolerance Initiative can be seen as a natural development of our Healthy Lifestyle Project's holistic approach to wellbeing in the community and partnership working," says Charles Fawcett, acting depute headteacher at Rosehall High and manager of the healthy lifestyle project .

"When we were getting the initiative off the ground," he said, "I was actually asked 'What has sectarianism to do with health?' Everything was my answer. Health cannot exclude mental or spiritual wellbeing."

On National Holocaust Day (January 27), Rosehall High held a special assembly for 80 of its senior pupils. They watched a DVD made about the Auschwitz trip and discussed their experiences with the three pupils who had visited the death camp.

Comments from the floor were mainly realistic or pessimistic: "Sectarianism can't be stopped"; "You can't stop it from everybody"; "It's the majority at Old Firm games who make sectarian chants, not the minority"; "Sectarianism in Coatbridge wouldn't lead to Auschwitz but there are a lot of sick people out there and it will probably lead to shooting."

If this is the chilling view from the young people on the street, the initiative still has a long way to go. And while only two of the 80 pupils admitted to speaking out in protest when they heard sectarian comments, they also pointed out that sectarianism was not exclusively a youth issue.

It was born and bred in the home and perpetrated by the older generation.

This was one of the points highlighted at the June conference, alongside calls for more focus on the issues facing Muslims, and disagreement from some Catholic pupils about suggestions that removing denominational status from schools might promote religious tolerance.

The pupils were very positive about the conference and hoped it would become an annual event, as well as further visits to Auschwitz.

The Try2gether Initiative is run by the healthy lifestyle project, based at Rosehall High, in partnership with the Lanarkshire Global Education Centre, Glasgow's Sense over Sectarianism programme, North Lanarkshire education department, the Scottish Executive and North Lanarkshire Council.

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