Bolt out of the tartan yonder

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Being an enterprising school is not just about churning out budding entrepreneurs, as Elizabeth Buie discovered at last month's Scottish Education Awards

for mulbuie Primary, winning the award for "best enterprise" was a true tartan triumph. With only 60 pupils on the roll, it saw off challengers for the title from much bigger schools.

The Muir of Ord school in the Highlands has the honour of producing and designing the official tartan of the Highland year of culture. Called the Golden Broom, (Mulbuie is "place of the golden broom" in Gaelic), the design first flowered nearly two years ago. Today, it can be seen in ties (the former First Minister, Jack McConnell, has one), children's clothing, teacloths and table- runners, placemats, wrapping paper, giftcards, notebooks, and, of course, the kilts that make up the school uniform.

It all began as an enterprise project on the Jacobites for the P6-7 class. Now the school's tartan products have even gone on sale at Harrods.

Shona Mackinnon, the headteacher, says: "We were studying tartans and the different designs for each clan. Then we turned it into an enterprise project a wonderful way to learn. It takes in so many areas of the curriculum, it's about real life, and it really motivates the kids."

Each pupil was asked to design a tartan with local significance: "That is complicated, and it gets highly mathematical when you're looking at thread counts, symmetry and so on," she says.

Internet research and online design programmes were backed up by sessions with a local weaver, who shared his expertise with the pupils and helped them understand what made a tartan authentic.

Even the selection of one tartan from the pupils' designs had an enterprising aspect, as parents were asked to choose the one they liked best by putting money in a jar beside it. "Golden Broom got the most money, and the parents told us they wanted it as part of the school uniform," says Mrs Mackinnon.

The next stage was to get the cloth produced. Aiming for authentic, pre industrial colours, she organised a whole-school investigation into natural materials as dyestuffs: "We had a book of recipes for how to dye wool naturally, and the kids had a wonderful time trying out heather, peat, wild flowers and even soot. They were digging up iris roots and scraping crotal off rocks. They made some beautiful colours."

With the backing of a bank loan, the pupils phoned around to find a firm that would turn their design into woven cloth. "Eventually, they decided to use a mill in the north of England, because they couldn't find one in Scotland to match their price for a bolt of our tartan," says Mrs Mackinnon. "It was a pity we couldn't find one in Scotland at the right price. But it was a lesson in business and life for the kids."

Within a couple of weeks of the tartan arriving, the pupils had sold all 65 metres. So they ordered another two bolts.

"People were making school uniforms with the tartan which look really smart. But they were also taking it home and making blinds and curtains, bedspreads and cushions," says the headteacher.

Contact with Highland 2007 came when the pupils prepared marketing materials and sent one to the then director of education, Bruce Robertson.

"He was very supportive," says Mrs Mackinnon, "and asked us to showcase the Golden Broom at an enterprise in education event. Highland 2007 were there, saw what we'd done and asked if they could adopt the tartan and use it on their products."

As a registered tartan, copyrighted by Highland Council, the Golden Broom generates royalties. The pound;1,600 which has come into the school has been used to buy an interactive whiteboard and projector. The prize money from the Scottish education awards will be reinvested in the next enterprise event, Mrs Mackinnon has pledged.

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