Action is better than words

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Bellerive School in south Liverpool has a sound tradition of student involvement in matters which come under the heading "citizenship". So when sixth-former Lisa Gregory won an award for the Youth Speak Out competition - which "The TES" and British Gas help fund for the Institute of Citizenship Studies - her effort drew on her school experiences.

"At our school we've always had the example of older pupils. I can remember as a first year watching some of the sixth-formers lead assemblies about various issues."

The Princes Park project undertaken by sixth-formers at Bellerive demonstrates how students can turn David Blunkett's urge to "think globally, but act locally" into action.

Eileen McCue, the head of sixth form, explains how the project came about. "Many of the religious education lessons are issues-based, and Jenny Griffiths, the head of RE, had been working with them on a project about land mines. Awareness had been raised by students taking assembly with younger age groups about the issue and by the lobbying of MPs through e-mails.

"After looking at a global issue, it was decided to look at something local. Our school lies between two parks in Liverpool - Sefton, which is well-tended and pleasant to look at, and Princes Park, which has deteriorated. It was litter-strewn, ill-lit, the lake was filthy and a beautiful Victorian boathouse was wasting away. The parents of our local students remembered the park as having been a place of natural beauty in their own childhoods."

The sixth-formers put out a questionnaire about the park to all the school's pupils and, spurred on by the general concern expressed, called a meeting with the representatives of the Parks and Environment department of Liverpool Council and the park's rangers. It was held in the common room and structured by the students. The conclusion was that young people and the council should work together to improve Princes Park.

Now Lisa Gregory stepped in with her individual contribution, shooting a self-scripted video of Princes Park and her peers discussing the issues and procedures involved in their project.

"I thought that if I entered the Youth Speak Out competition, there was a chance to win publicity for the school and elevate the issue to national level," Lisa says.

Meanwhile, assisted by their association with the Mersey-side Broad-based Organisation, which links schools and industry, the students managed to make some progress: more litter bins are now in place, a lighting grant has been made, a Bellerive-sponsored competition to create a poster has raised awareness in local primary schools, and there is real hope of a grant for the maintenance and restoration of the boathouse.

Lisa Gregory's award has attracted extensive local publicity, enabling young people in the Toxteth area to see that, through active citizenship, they can make a difference.

"I really don't think that schools can teach citizenship as such," says Eileen McCue. "Learning by doing is the best way forward, and in our sixth-formers' case it is an action project which they have chosen themselves."

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