Local heroes in action

25th January 2008 at 00:00

Citizenship can be active - and it teaches children what a powerful weapon protest can be, says Ben Hammond.

Citizenship isn't just about preparing young people to be citizens of the future. They are citizens already, with democratic rights and the power to make a difference. Here at Deptford Green, we believe the role of the citizenship department is to empower young people to have an impact on the world around them.

When a group of our Year 10 pupils discovered that investment by Total in Burma was helping to support that country's oppressive regime, they decided to protest outside a Total petrol station and did so with the school's support.

The demonstration was well planned, with pupils liaising with local police and preparing flyers to publicise the event. They politely informed potential customers of the consequences of buying their petrol there. It helped raise awareness among the community, and the pupils later received an invitation to meet Total representatives.

We are keen to build in pupils the knowledge, skills and inclination to make a difference. When a group of Year 9s lobbied for investment in a rundown underpass, not only did the council find pound;95,000 for improvements, it also asked pupils for ideas about how to make it safe.

When a girl was knocked down on a busy road outside the school, it was a group of Year 9 pupils who organised an 800-strong petition to get the road layout changed.

Campaigning is encouraged but it's never compulsory. This is a school with pupils from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and communities - where 35 languages are spoken - so there is going to be diversity of opinion. When pupils find something they feel strongly about, we back them all the way.

Ben Hammond is joint head of citizenship at Deptford Green School in Lewisham, London. He was talking to Steven Hastings.

Making change happen

- Pupils must do their research thoroughly. Facts and figures need to be accurate and well-sourced.

- When writing a letter, pupils need to make sure that it will reach the appropriate person.

- Always keep a record of correspondence sent out, and any replies received.

- Petitions are a good way of making people take notice.

- When organising a demonstration, plan ahead and work with the local police. Safety is the most important concern.

- Pupils can use the media to raise the profile of their campaign. Most local newspapers are interested in stories of young people taking action to support the community.

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