Going for gold

15th June 2012 at 01:00
The Cluster Olympics saw young athletes from Queen Anne High and 13 associated primaries begin an ambitious torch relay covering 28 miles. The build-up to the event has taught pupils about the spirit of the Games and forged valuable links between the schools

The Cluster Olympics at Queen Anne High in Dunfermline has been planned like a military operation. Any event that pulls together one secondary school and its 13 associated primaries has to be. But Scottish weather has no interest in plans devised by generals or teachers. So the youngsters carrying their own Olympic flames from one school to another look slim, fit, keen . and frozen.

There is a chilly bite in the spring air as the Cairneyhill Primary pupils set off, cheered on by well-wrapped mums, dads and teachers, and accompanied by first-year runners from Queen Anne.

"We've got two sets of runners today," says high school depute head Peter Billington. "There are the Queen Anne runners, 12 of them, who are running the whole 28 miles between them, in separate legs carrying our torch. Then there are groups of pupils from each of the primaries, who are joining them to run the leg between their school and the next primary."

Two minibuses are kept busy picking up runners when they have done their stint, while police cars, front and back, complete the convoy that slows the traffic and keeps kids safe. "That is the most important thing," says Mr Billington. "The police have been closely involved since we started talking about this last September. They did a full risk assessment, as did we. They will also be supporting the two-day Cluster Olympics event itself."

Conceived as a combination of a transitions initiative and Curriculum for Excellence project, the Queen Anne Cluster Olympics sees more than 500 Primary 7 and Secondary 1 pupils taking part this week in events from athletics and archery to rowing, swimming and tennis. But there is much more to it than sport and games.

Each school has been assigned a country, according to population, from the top 14 medal-winners at the last Olympics. Cairneyhill Primary, ranked fifth in pupil numbers got Germany, the fifth most populous country, explains headteacher Lesley Carter. "So Germany has been featuring in lots of our Primary 7 lessons. The pupils have been learning all about the country and its history."

"We have done the Second World War, post-war Germany and modern Germany, and we are wearing T-shirts with the German flag on them," says Sean Sneddon, who will represent his adopted country at basketball.

"We have learned about the big impact the war had on Germany and how Berlin was split into two after it," says Lucas Hastie, entered for the basketball and cycling events.

Cairneyhill Primary decided to use the Olympic theme to motivate learning, not just among the Primary 7s - the original transitions concept - but across the school, says depute head Fiona Hall. "So our Primary 1s have been Italy, because they have got a little Italian girl in the class. They have been finding out about the flag and food and have learned Italian words.

"The Primary 2s are Greece. So they have looked into the original Olympics. The Primary 5s have been studying sports and traditions in New Zealand and Canada. We have even had our own whole-school, mini-Olympics already, with a grandstand, a decorated gazebo and prizes for taking part and for sportsmanship."

Participation in the torch-bearing day and the Cluster Olympics is voluntary, says Mrs Carter, but pupil enthusiasm is high. "We are a designated provision for children with additional support needs, so we have been having our own Paralympics.

"Daniel MacKinnon, who is in a powered wheelchair, carries the torch today on its first leg from our school to the next. Even the nursery kids are involved. They present at assembly and display their learning for everyone to see."

Sharing the learning involves not just the school but the wider community, she says. "That's important. Transition is about nursery to primary as well as primary to secondary. We keep hearing about successful learners and confident individuals. But my kids are confident.

"They are far more confident than I ever was. They present, they talk on radio mics, they share their learning. The one thing everybody says, when they come into our school, is how good the youngsters are at this kind of thing."

That learning aspect of the Cluster Olympics is central, says Mr Billington, back at Queen Anne High, as the minibus carrying the torch- bearers deposits yellow-shirted runners who look remarkably unscathed by 27 miles around the cluster, in a cold east wind.

"I was talking to teachers en route and they were saying how excited the kids were, which is understandable," says Mr Billington. "But they were also talking about how much stuff they had done and how it related to what they are doing today. It will be interesting to find out how much of that comes through after their two days of sport."

Evaluation of the initiative, following the Cluster Olympics, will focus on the learning legacy, he says. "We will ask people around the schools how well it worked for them, what we could have done better, how we can take the idea forward to the Commonwealth Games in 2014. We want to know what new ideas they came up with and how their pupils respond after they have done it all.

"We have cluster events and meetings normally, and some primaries link with each other and the high school. But this is on a whole different scale - and it's teachers taking part rather than headteachers. At the Olympics cluster meetings, they are telling me it's fantastic because they are now talking to each other, emailing, sharing their ideas about the learning."

Organised by the Active Schools coordinator, pupils from the primaries have been visiting the high school, he explains. "We have better facilities here, so he has had them coming in and using those and learning new skills."

As the largest school in the cluster, Queen Anne has been learning all about the most populous country in the Olympics, he says - China. "So we had 140 kids here for the whole day, working on Ai Weiwei, his art, his influence, his role in human rights. Our head of art commented afterwards on the fantastic work some of the Primary 7s were doing, and he wondered what happened to them in the past during the first two years at secondary."

There is now an ideal vehicle for carrying that primary school ability and enthusiasm all the way to secondary school, says Mr Billington.

"The first two years at secondary have often been tagged as a waste of time. But we can now use those years to build on the impetus that Curriculum for Excellence has given us and the improved links, through projects like this, with our primary schools," he explains. If the Cluster Olympics have done nothing else, they have got teachers thinking and they have brought 14 schools much closer together."


`It has helped us to form new links with secondary staff'

Olivia Wexelstein, Wellwood Primary teacher

"Together with the Queen Anne craft, design and technology teacher, I have been running workshops for the press corps - pupils who are going to interview people and write up the Cluster Olympics. We have had lots of cluster meetings in the build-up. It has been great for all us Primary 7 teachers to get together and discuss different issues, some not even related to the project. It has helped us to form new links with secondary staff."

Megan Brand, Townhill Primary teacher

"We began back in August, but I wouldn't say it's been hard to organise. The Active Schools coordinator, Andrew Baird, was involved from the start. He has been a great help. On the day, our pupils will be mixing with new people and won't just be with their peers. That will be really good for them. Because they know they are coming to Queen Anne for the Cluster Olympics, they are motivated to learn."

Kayleigh Brown, P7, Wellwood Primary

"We are split into four groups who are going to do research and then decorate a corner of the classroom with stuff from the country we have picked. We have got a Wii and a Mario and Sonic at the London Olympics. We are going to play that in our groups. Then we are going to make a newspaper to report on how we get on."

Rebecca Fraser, P7, Townhill Primary

"We have been looking at the differences between the ancient and modern Olympic Games. We pretended to be a spectator at the ancient games and had to write a newspaper report. There was only one event at the first games - running from one end of the stadium to the other - then five at the next, and it has kept building ever since."

Lauren Gambier, P7, McLean Primary

"We have been learning about the US - which is who we are supposed to be - its history, geography and weather. We have made maps and charted where there are famous swamps, mountains and rivers. We started off with each of us making a mind-map of what we didn't know and what we wanted to find out."

Shaun Bisset, P7, McLean Primary

"When we do a project, we ask questions at the start and then try to answer them. You think of stuff you've heard of, but you don't know much about. Then you write down what you would like to know."

Photo by James Glossop: S1 pupils at Queen Anne High take part in a mock Olympic torch relay in Dunfermline as part of the school's Cluster Olympics event.


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