A dozen reasons for a good read
Glasgow's easterhouse is known for high levels of deprivation. Two- thirds of adults there have no formal qualifications, and the focus is often on helping those in need, on raising attainment. But what about the gifted and talented students who do well in school? How can they be rewarded, stretched and given opportunities?
These were the thoughts going through Gordon Fisher's head two years ago. With two children in mind, the principal teacher of English and drama at Lochend Community High was looking for ways to develop their writing skills. His research brought up the Arvon Foundation, a national creative writing charity, which advised him to approach the John Thaw Foundation for funding. He did, and was told that funding was available - but for 12 children, not two.
"I chose 12 good and interested pupils who I thought would respond well," recalls Mr Fisher. "I chose second-years as I felt it would be good preparation for Standard grades."
So in February 2008, English teacher Ged O'Brien and the pupils set off for Devon and a week of creative writing with well-known authors and writing tutors on hand to help them.
Each day began with a group session of free creative writing. The group would then split up, with pupils receiving one-to-one tutoring from writers such as River City scriptwriter Des Dillan and poet Caroline Bird, while the others went out for a walk with the Arvon creative writing tutors. They would look for inspiration, discuss ideas and talk about ways they could describe the scenery. In the evenings, they read out what they had produced and offered each other constructive criticism.
Gemma Cooke, S3, went on the second trip in February and would like to be an author. "I have written a short story for English and would like to turn it into a novel. The course gave me techniques to use in my writing. I also learned things about poems I didn't know before, and how to structure them."
Olivia McGleish, 14, has her heart set on studying medicine, but would like to write in her spare time. "It was good being able to work on different types of writing such as poetry and drama, instead of the normal writing we do in class."
She appreciated the peace and quiet as well as the tutorials. "It was good having an author tell me face-to-face how I could improve."
In Scotland, the benefits showed. The children achieved level F in the writers' craft strand of creative writing and were helped in other ways.
"It improved their confidence and interactions. Writing creatively gives them the opportunity to develop life skills," says Mr Fisher. "When developing plots, it makes them think about their lives. Seeing that a character has choices helps them with theirs as individuals. When they are creating dialogue or a poem addressed to someone, it makes them think about how to say things.
"When they returned, they were able to challenge my thoughts and we had discussions on structure and what makes a good short story. They came back knowing that there are no fixed rules in creative writing, and knowing how to experiment. They could see why a writer had done things a particular way, why a word was put on a single line for effect."
The pupils also covered areas of writing they are not able to do in class. Mr Fisher says: "It gave them the chance to write in styles which the curriculum doesn't allow. In class, we don't have as much freedom to write full dramas or plays, and aren't able to complete them."
Parents appreciated the opportunity their children had been given. "The mums and dads were delighted," recalls Mr Fisher. "They came up to thank me that their children were selected, and were pleased that they had got so much out of it."
While it is too early to see whether Lochend will produce the next JK Rowling or Ian Rankin, the students who attended the course are very active with writing projects within the school. Some help out on the school newsletter, while others write scripts in the drama club.
They are also looking forward to a visit from the Arvon Foundation and the John Thaw Foundation. An evening is planned, to which the pupils who attended both years will be invited with their parents. The youngsters will make presentations and read their work. This will be followed by a staging of a play which some of the pupils wrote. Two anthologies of the pupils' work will also be made available to parents.
Mr Fisher is looking forward to accompanying the pupils on the next trip. "When Ged came back the first year, he said it was the best week of his teaching career. When he came back the second year, he said it was even better."