Fife marches to a different beat

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Raymond Ross reports on why the Chancellor is backing an alternative curriculum in his constituency

Lochgelly High today (Friday) became unexpectedly affected the terror strike against the United States, albeit inadvertently.

Chancellor Gordon Brown had been due to visit the school, in his Dunfermline East constituency, to present fourth year pupils with their "alternative curriculum certificates." But emergency Cabinet business kept him in London and the ceremony will now take place in November.

It will mark the official launch of the alternative curriculum the school has been piloting with considerable success over the past year. It also marks another milestone in the growing disillusion in Scotland with the official curriculum, which has seen North Lanarkshire and Glasgow settle for different approaches.

The Chancellor will be putting his imprimatur on the initiative taken by Jack McConnell, Education Minister, to inject more innovation and flexibility into the curriculum, especially for pupils who lack motivation and present discipline problems.

Run on a voluntary basis with backing from Fife's social strategy, along with help from local colleges and Fife Careers, the Lochgelly scheme allows disaffected students to undertake an alternative curriculum and gain valuable life certificates. It has won a pound;3,000 New Futures award from Barclays, the UK's largest education sponsor.

"Over the past few years we have become increasingly aware of the growing number of disaffected pupils, a disaffection which commonly manifests itself in challenging behaviour, truancy and eventual social exclusion," Elaine Collins, principal teacher of behaviour support services, says.

"While Fife has a well-established continuum of behaviour support, these resources are not exhaustive and in order to meet the needs of this band of children at Lochgelly alternatives had to be considered."

The pound;3,000 award is being used to fund a part-time link officer, Lynne Reid, to liaise with the partners and to support, mentor and generally troubleshoot for the pupils and parents. "This post was clearly identified as necessary for the smooth running of what is a fairly complex curriculum of activities," Mrs Collins says.

The four boys and two girls involved (the group is soon to expand to eight or nine) follow an alternative curriculum involving close work with the local community. This covers enterprise education, extended work experience, ICT, art therapy, first aid, child care and parenting in a variety of locations. They follow the normal Standard grade curriculum for maths and English in school.

The outcomes will involve pupils receiving eight certificates, at least half awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

"At least two of these pupils were at risk of exclusion but behaviour has improved tremendously. Attendance among the group has risen from around 40 per cent to 100 per cent and no one has been excluded," Mrs Collins says.

"The pupils are supported in the mainstream classes but their new-found motivation suggests that they don't seem to need that now. We have the support of the parents, which is crucial. The attitude is now different and staff comment widely on improved behaviour. We're pretty chuffed.

"We have shown it works and people have confidence in it. It proves there is a way forward."

The pupils have successfully completed a team-building course with Mines Rescue Services (Fife) and a childcare orientation module with Glenrothes College.

The alternative curriculum was initially planned as a six-week pilot, but this was expanded to a year. As no central funding was available the project relied heavily on the voluntary input of the partners while incidental costs were met from Lochgelly High's own budget. The successful bid for the Barclays New Futures award was made last December, but Mrs Collins is looking for permanent funding so the project can expand.

"The majority of our partners are still giving time and resources on a voluntary basis and our fear must be that there will come a time relatively soon when there will be a major cost implication if we are to continue to involve these partners" she says.

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