Inclusive truly means celebrating both academic and community achievement

8th July 2011 at 01:00
Awards for pupils donating time and effort to help others are particularly heart-warming

I had the pleasure of attending three awards ceremonies during the final weeks of school. All three were deemed a great success by the proud pupils, parents and teachers. At the first two, however, I felt there was something missing and the third ceremony provided the answer. In a secondary school serving an area of multiple deprivation, it was more inclusive than the other two which had focused too much, I felt, on academic accomplishments.

Just over half of the third school's ceremony involved presentations to those who had brought credit to themselves, and their school, in ways that didn't involve academic ability.

There was, of course, recognition for those who had achieved in sport and for those who, through hard work and effort, had made significant progress in their literacy and numeracy skills. But the biggest part of the ceremony was the presentation of awards for pupils who had made a major contribution to the wider community. While other schools may offer something similar, at this particular school community awards have much greater status.

The awards included certificates and thank-you letters for senior pupils who had forfeited their private study periods and some of their free time to help primary school pupils with reading and writing.

Additional awards were provided for the senior pupils who had taken it in turns to walk round the playground and talk to those pupils who were on their own and had no one to talk to.

There was recognition for the pupils who had excelled at the school's social entrepreneurship programme, including "Donate Yourself" where pupils helped out after school in local charity shops.

Pupils who had impressed in their work experience programmes were also recognised. The top award for community involvement went to a 16-year-old boy whose list of referrals and exclusions was once considerably longer than his list of academic achievements.

At the start of S4, however, the award-winner had been sent to a nursing home as part of a week of work experience. It had gone well and he continued to work at the home, in his own time, as a volunteer.

"The residents", the headteacher said in his keynote speech, "just adore him."

Such has been the success of the placement that the boy was offered training, and a permanent job, as a carer.

Several residents from the nursing home were in the audience to see the boy receive his award and a much-deserved standing ovation. The headteacher concluded the ceremony by saying he was proud to lead a school in which every pupil has an opportunity to excel.

On the way out, I noticed that the school's roll of honour, in pride of place at the front entrance, had two lists of names beautifully scripted in gold paint: one list was for the duxes and the other was for the community award winners. Truly inclusive.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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