Fiona MacLeod visits a summer school that prepares primarychildren to move up to secondary
The drive to boost literacy skills is taking many forms, from impromptu musicals to a treasure hunt at a railway station
Not many pupils willingly go back to school for an extra two weeks after term has ended for the summer holidays, but if what is on offer includes surfing the Internet, starring in your own production of Grease and lots of football, then it starts to sound like fun.
North Lanarkshire has cannily wrapped these activities round a two-week pilot summer school with the serious aim of raising achievement in literacy among primary 7 pupils about to go on to senior school.
Based at Rosehall High in Coatbridge, some 30 pupils from the 10 feeder primaries for Rosehall and Columba High have taken part in an intensive programme of paired reading and guided writing sessions. Many of the pupils were introduced to writing and redrafting their work using computers. After these sessions they have afternoons of drama, sports coaching and the Internet.
Joe McCambridge, assistant head at Rosehall and co-ordinator of the summer school, said: "We weren't sure how many of the kids would turn up on the first day - or how many would come back on the second - but they have been amazingly keen, wanting to do more when the sessions have ended. I think it has surprised us all how successful it has been."
The children were selected by their primary teachers, who chose those "not currently achieving their academic or social potential". Improving literacy skills, enhancing self-esteem and providing an opportunity to experience the range of demands they will face at secondary school were key aims.
Each child arrived with a record of particular areas to be worked on, such as spelling, or sequencing, and as a result the guided writing lessons have been tightly focused. But there has been as much fun as possible. Writing projects have included football match reports, a daily diary of the summer school, recipes and writing up a science experiment.
Maureen Martin, the North Lanarkshire education officer behind the scheme, is realistic about how much can be achieved in just two weeks. "This is very much a pilot project, but a great deal of discussion and planning have gone into its content, by a specialist adviser, community education and social work departments and the schools themselves.
"Boosting literacy skills is a key aim for us. We have run very successful Easter schools for Higher pupils as well as sessions for fourth-years, but it is clear that if pupils come into secondary school with a reading age below their chronological age they will find it difficult to access many parts of the curriculum. This can lead to a growing sense of failure, at a time when the transition to secondary should be providing new challenges to carry on the motivation and enthusiasm pupils have at primary school. In two weeks we can achieve quite a lot in terms of motivation and building confidence. The pupils meet secondary staff in a less formal situation and get to know their way around."
Among the pupils in the Internet session at the start of the second week, concentration is intense. John Paul McGhie, aged 12, is going to Columba High and his pal David Morton, aged 11, to Rosehall. From different primaries, they met during the first day and have stuck together.
They are working with Julie Fleming, aged 11, who is also going on to Rosehall, trying to write the opening pages of a website magazine about the summer school. They cannot agree on whether they should say it has been the best in the world, or just the first the council has put on.
Meanwhile, they are happy to chat. "The best bit has been playing football every day," says John Paul. "All the sports," agrees David. "At home I would just be sitting in my room playing with a computer, but here I can surf the Internet, which is really good."
"Doing the dances from Grease was the best thing," says Megan Garment, aged 12. "And making pompoms so we can be cheerleaders." Like the others, she is still there after the session has ended.
Megan knows her way to the canteen for lunch when she is ready, but she wants to finish what she has been doing all morning - reading, writing and spelling. It certainly doesn't feel like school.