Beyond tick-box citizenship

12th August 2011 at 01:00

For Mearns Primary, global citizenship isn't a token label, it's part of the school's character. "I think one reason that we won the Scottish Education Award for Global Citizenship is that it's a concept embedded in the work of the school - it's part of the everyday curriculum," says Ann Macbeth, head of the school in Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire.

The school's commitment to internationalism, sustainability and participation has taken shape in a bewildering array of largely pupil- driven activities, including health fairs, renewable energy initiatives and a partnership with primaries in India.

As part of the British Council's Connecting Classrooms project, Mearns has been cultivating links with schools in New Delhi. "We jointly planned a three-year project to develop an understanding and appreciation of each other's country, culture and customs," explained depute head Siobhan McColgan.

Last October, Miss McColgan visited the schools in New Delhi and returned to share her experiences with teachers, pupils and parents. Suitably inspired, P7s undertook their own global footprint project and compared energy results with one of the New Delhi primaries.

The initiative was typical of the school's "depth and richness of study", says Mrs Macbeth. "Real world relevance is at the heart of all aspects of citizenship education, as is challenge and enjoyment," she added.

Last autumn, Mearns held a month-long celebration of black history. Each year group researched a different aspect of black culture, culminating in a whole-school event attended by members of the local community.

Sustainable development has also been on the school improvement plan over the past year, with P6-7 pupils forming an action group to examine how the school could reduce its global footprint. In their sights are an increase in the number of children cycling to and from school, the creation of allotments and a mobile kitchen, and an Earth Hour event where pupils produce pledge cards and calculate amounts of electricity saved.

Involving pupils in evaluation of their own learning and ensuring they lead decision-making at classroom level has been at the heart of making all these projects work, says Mrs Macbeth.

A group of P7 children volunteered to evaluate the success of Assessment for Learning within the school, observing lessons, scrutinising jotters for evidence, interviewing children and teachers and producing a questionnaire. Evidence was then presented to staff and the parent council.

"After all the learning visits, we meet with pupils and ask them what they think of their learning," Mrs Macbeth explains. "Pupils know that responsibilities come with rights. The pupil voice is very strong here."

Mrs Macbeth feels pupils now have a "real stake" in how the school - which has a diverse catchment and, including nursery children, a roll of 900 - expresses global citizenship. She emphasises that Mearns's newfound profile is "not just the work of a few teachers".

"It's not a tick-box exercise," she says. "When assessors visited us, one of them said they initially found it hard to believe global citizenship could be embedded in the school, but now they could see it was true. They had the evidence from the pupils."

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