Citizen gain

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Who do you think you are? According to one teacher, the answers are not in textbooks, but on the streets around you. Diana Hinds investigates

When black and Asian pupils at a Liverpool secondary were subjected to racist attacks on their way home from school, their classmates decided to do something about it. Not in a physical way - but through citizenship lessons.

Rather than confront the perpetrators, older pupils at New Heys Community School set about educating young children in the school about why this was wrong, to stop the problem getting worse.

Gary Hart, who teaches citizenship at the school, and John McCarthy, a learning mentor, drew together up a group of white, black and Asian pupils from year 10, 11 and the sixth form.

Backed by the local TUC, the group went to Liverpool Museum to look into their ancestry. Liverpool was a great melting pot in the past. It made some of them realise that even if they were white, their family had not necessarily come from England and that they too had been immigrants at some point.

They then devised and delivered lessons to small Year 7 groups. They discussed racism, stereotyping and what it meant to be British, telling the younger children what they had found out about their family histories. And because it came from their peers rather than teachers, the pupils took notice.

"In one lesson, an older boy burst into the classroom, shouting at everyone to get their things and get out," says Gary.

"It was a way of looking at the experience of refugees. It had real impact - some of the younger children were quite shocked. They were encouraged to talk about how they felt later."

The pupils were also taken to the slavery gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum, to give them more awareness of Liverpool's history in relation to slavery and immigration.

The project has had a number of offshoots. "We have developed a peer-mentoring scheme for Year 7, and through the TUC, we have developed links with some German trades unionists," says Gary.

"The group still meets after school and has taken on a life of its own."

This includes being asked to do anti-racism training for the upper house of the Liverpool Schools' Parliament, which meets at Liverpool Town Hall.

There have been a few more racist incidents this term, but Gary believes that by boosting the students' self-esteem and confidence, they are now better able to cope with it.

"It's given them a maturity, as well as greater understanding," he says


* Promote active participation. Young people learn best about citizenship by being active citizens themselves.

* Give pupils ownership. If they have an idea for something they want to do or change, encourage them to take the lead.

* Let the pupils make the running, but be there to guide and support. Help with structure. If they are devising their own lesson plans, for instance, suggest what works and what doesn't work.

* Where possible, allow older pupils to "teach" younger ones. This is not only good for the older pupils' confidence and communication skills, but the younger ones will take more notice of their peers.

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