Glenburn serves an extra-special snack

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
The Palm Court Cafe was buzzing with its usual Friday customers. Parents and pupils from neighbouring secondaries and primaries were flocking to grab their coffees and mid-morning goodies along with pupils from Glenburn School.

Under the brightly coloured parasols and to the accompaniment of some fancy ghetto-blaster music, uniformed waiters attended the tables, ferrying the nibbles from the kitchen and clearing the debris. Some of the wee ones from a local primary thought the cafe was real enough. It is and it isn't.

The "caff" is an education set-up in the Glenburn foyer, convincingly mocking up the genuine article. Perhaps it was too busy to be the real thing and was not doused in smoke or grease.

But the Greenock school, home to 60 pupils with moderate learning difficulties, is perfecting the art of life skills in the next best thing to a street caff. For its eight S4 pupils, Friday mornings are a bit special.

Pat Webster, a home economics teacher, says: "It's work simulation where they learn from start to finish how a cafe functions. We try to do the shopping at the beginning of the week. Then they do the budgeting and baking and make the menus. There's also the cash side of it, money handling." On a regular Friday, the cafe takes in up to Pounds 50.

Mrs Webster added: "Home economics in this school has a very high profile because it's a basic life skill. It does not always have the same press in a mainstream school but here it is essential for our children. It takes them into the world of work and I think it teaches them what happens outside.

"When you see them at the beginning of S4, they are young, immature and tentative. But now they are much more confident. The cafe gives them a good sense of belonging, a sense of importance and improvements in self-esteem. "

Carol Jackson, Glenburn's headteacher, says that most children come with behavioural problems between primary 6 and S1 because they cannot cope with mainstream primary or secondary.

More than 20 years ago, the school had 300 pupils but medical advances and policies of wider integration have contributed to a fall in numbers.

But Mrs Jackson insists there is a continuing role for schools such as hers, which serves the Inverclyde area. "Parents send their children here because they realise the educational experience in mainstream is not right for them. Our children have moderate learning difficulties, plus additional difficulties and they have complex needs. They can have communication, behavioural, physical or sensory difficulties.

"The Glenburn environment sorts out problems. The pupils do not have to demand attention because they have got plenty of it and people do not pick on them. We do not try to kid the kids. They know they have got special needs.

"If a child is happy in mainstream and has moderate learning difficulties, the child is well placed, but if they are not functioning because they cannot access the curriculum and are not happy, then a school such as ours is ideal."

Most pupils have a reading age of seven or eight and would have difficulties coping with the secondary curriculum. Glenburn, Mrs Jackson maintains, follows the 5-14 guidelines and more, even if Standard grade is beyond most. Modules in social and vocational education help to deliver the task-oriented activities, such as the cafe.

Mrs Jackson argues that pupils communicate with more confidence as adults come to know them better and are not confined to subject areas. A major problem is comprehension. The Glenburn curriculum leaves time for each pupil. Staff-pupil ratios are 1:10.

"We have a very purposeful school. The curriculum is rigorously planned but creatively delivered. These children are assessed within an inch of their lives. But unless they are happy they are not going to learn," she says.

The agenda includes work experience and visits to snooker halls, swimming baths and fitness centres. Pupils may have to adjust to prolonged periods of leisure and hobbies will be important.

The Palm Court Cafe is everyone's cup of tea. Practical, educational and with a post-school purpose. I'd recommend the apple pie.

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