Meet the new press officers

1st March 2013 at 00:00
Auchinairn Primary's specialist team is made up of P6-7 pupils who promote their peers' work. Jackie Cosh suggests you read all about it

The role of a press officer is a busy one. Telephone calls to make, newspapers to contact, journalists to show around. But at Auchinairn Primary in East Dunbartonshire, there are four to share the load.

Over the years the press officers have managed to get coverage in The Herald, The Scotsman and several local newspapers. The school has also been featured on GMTV and the STV news, and mentioned in Scottish Question Time at Holyrood. Impressive work for a small group of P6 and 7 children.

This year's press officers are, by chance, all girls, quiet but confident in their own work in class, and benefiting from developing some work-based skills.

To start with, headteacher Mandy Thompson asked them to think about what the job of press officer entailed. "I gave them a job description for a press officer job from a newspaper in London," she says. "I got them to identify what skills they had, from looking at the advert.

"Then I got them to look up news on the internet, to think about what was in the news and about the market - the pupils in school. They had to think about how they could present the news to them in a way that was motivating and interesting, then make PowerPoint presentations at assembly.

"The idea," she adds, "is to give them a snapshot, to help them understand jobs and develop skills."

They also tried to incorporate unusual news, such as a "sneakers with speakers story", and to include items that would interest boys and girls.

"We went on the BBC website to see what was going on in the world," Kenleigh McMartin, 11, says. "We took into account that boys like football championships. So we included a story about that, and news about Lionel Messi, as well as a story about the Duchess of Cambridge being pregnant."

They also set up a blog to keep the school up-to-date with how the boy they are sponsoring in Africa is doing. The next step is to phone World Vision for some help.

Caitlin Pennington, 10, and Lisa McMullin, 11, are a bit nervous about speaking to people. Lisa is looking forward to getting more writing done, which is the main reason she volunteered. "I thought it would be fun to write newspaper articles and to write on the computer," she says.

Emma, 10, thought it would be interesting to make slide shows and see how a press officer works: "I like the idea of reporting what is going on all over the world and what celebrities are doing."

Lisa says they would like to write for the papers. "It would be good to try the Evening Times, the Daily Record and The Herald.

"We also want to make a magazine for the school. We could have three stories on what is happening in the school and three on what is happening locally".

Headteacher Garry Graham came up with the idea of having press officers when he first arrived at the school four years ago.

"I wanted to raise aspirations of the school community and I thought the school was the best place to start, to get the children involved," he says. "Over the years the press officers have organised lots of things.

"The asthma committee went to the Scottish Parliament. They contacted the press about Bishopbriggs being the first cycling town in Scotland. They have contacted The Herald, and all the local papers."

Every Friday the school has a common curriculum afternoon where, for three weeks out of six, what they do is linked to pupil groups and feeds in to the press committee.

"The press officers are there to promote the pupils' work," Mr Graham says. "The pupils tell them what they need and they will contact councillors, organise newsletters and get in touch with the relevant people. We have had MPs and MEPs here at events at the school."

They also wrote to Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People Tam Baillie, when Auchinairn was included in a list of schools that might be closed, and he came out for an assembly.

They tend to do things orally over the phone, Mr Graham says. "There is not always a huge amount of writing involved. Often reporters take notes anyway when they visit. But they send emails out."

Literacy in the school has improved across the board, as have presentation skills, he says: "When I first came to the school the pupils were not confident and not good at standing up and speaking. Now their self-esteem and self-confidence is much better. Literacy is not just about English. They are more able to organise their thoughts and better at sequencing. That impacts on their written prose and how to present it.

"The pupils are also getting better at driving improvements themselves. They are now more likely to say, 'I would like to do X, Y, or Z'. I say 'go to a press officer'. It is all part of the PR machine."

THEY GOT IT COVERED

In 2009, the pupils made a short film about asthma, which was featured on STV news and GMTV. It was mentioned in the Scottish Parliament and applauded by local MP Jo Swinson.

They also organised a visit from Glasgow Warriors captain Alastair Kellock, who came to the school to talk about how asthma has not held him back.

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