A chance to air our radio talent

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Winning a BBC competition gave one school the opportunity to learn about radio, as well as experience life outside the curriculum, writes Hellen Fleming

Live on air, anything could happen in the next half-hour with Elgin High as BBC Radio Scotland's SoundTown. And what a fantastic experience it turned out to be.

We didn't quite know what it would involve, but having filled out the application and endured the audition, we found ourselves surrounded by BBCengineers installing a studio in one of our classrooms. The kit turned us into a mini broadcaster, and enabled us to make and contribute to radio programmes, an opportunity the students relished.

At first, it was all a bit daunting. What if we did something wrong? But there was no need to worry. It was all explained and some of the pupils turned out to be naturals at the technical side of things, not to mention broadcasting. They became even more skilled throughout the year.

Pupils were asked if they were interested in becoming involved with Radio Scotland and we started a cross-section of pupils in a "press" group and two radio groups. The "press" group, who were to compose a monthly story for the local paper, were given ideas by Radio Scotland on how to write reports that were clear, accurate and interesting.

This let the school inform the community what was going on, and allowed the community to learn about the school. There were often phone calls from the community asking if they could be part of an audience.

Producers from Radio Scotland visited the school to train the radio groups.

They taught them how to put together a programme, whether it was music, drama, features or news. They explained the difference between a "package"

and a "doughnut", and how to "backtag" an item.

The pupils learned how to edit, to make programmes flow and keep listeners interested. And they learned that what takes 30 minutes to record can take longer to edit, yet end up as just two minutes of a broadcast.

There have been a number of homemade broadcasts to the canteen at lunchtimes, although towards the end of lunch there were requests from staff to play some calming music to allow an effective afternoon of education.

The head of Radio Scotland, Jeff Zyncinski, and Elgin High's headteacher, Andy Simpson, each shadowed the BBCcrew for a day. The Fred MacAulay show was to have a live interview with the two gentlemen, which was all set up by the pupils who made the connection and checked all the levels were correct.

A number of programmes were broadcast live from the school. The BBC producers had to set up what was happening, what items were to be covered, and the audience. Then the engineers had to set up equipment and all this had to go through the "sat" van.

The senior engineer had a first at Elgin High: it was almost too cold for the sat van to function at the end of January. Luckily, with heaters, he was able to transmit MacAulay and co live to Scotland and worldwide via the internet.

Jim Spence and his team came for a live session of Ninety Minutes, with the preparations including five-a-side football with the Standard grade class.

Over the year, Elgin High was visited by interesting people. The BBC Symphony Orchestra gave masterclasses to the secondary pupils and feeder primaries. John Beattie talked to a group about rugby and was encouraging and enthusiastic about sport in general. A lively audience of pupils and members of the public attended a vociferous debate on energy production as part of Scotland Live and an evening recording of The Beechgrove Potting Shed.

A number of pupils and staff have visited the BBC studios in Inverness and Glasgow to see a bigger version of the school studio and some have had work experience placements.

The BBC staff have been so helpful to the school and gone out of their way to answer questions and solve problems. Staff and pupils have seen what can be done when teams work together. The pupils have gained experience well outside the normal curriculum and have come away with a wider knowledge and greater self-esteem.

A great deal of work and effort went into this project from both the BBC and the school. Was it worth it? Most definitely, yes. If you get such an opportunity, grab it with both hands.

Hellen Fleming teaches at Elgin High A "package" is a report put together in linear fashion, sometimes a number of clips. A "doughnut" is a live report from the field, where a reporter sets the scene, interviews about two guests and then hands back to the studio. "Backtagging" is where the presenter reminds listeners who they have been listening to, as in: "That was Phil Goodlad in Glasgow."

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