Message of respect has many forms

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Art provides the focus for tackling sectarianism at two schools on the outskirts of Glasgow

The suburbs of Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs may not be the most obvious home of sectarianism, but schools in the area are not prepared to get too comfortable.

A joint venture between the non-denominational Kirkintilloch High and the nearby St Ninian's RC High has seen their Secondary 2 pupils work together under the heading "Respect the difference".

This is the second year of the project, and with Glow, the schools intranet, becoming a bigger part of school life, they hope to nurture it through regular online meetings.

Art and design, drama, English, religious and moral philosophy studies, history, modern studies and even ICT got into the action. The pupils approached the subject in different ways and created different skills in a variety of areas - while collaborating with the very children sectarianism teaches them to dislike.

"'Respect the difference' is one of the school rules," explains Alison McCloy, principal art teacher at Kirkintilloch. "We rarely encounter sectarianism in the school in relation to football, but we still need to cover issues of conflict and respect."

Sectarianism and bigotry are never too far away in central Scotland, so the schools decided to confront the subject and open it up to include all types of racial intolerance. "The wider sense of respect was incorporated, fitting in with the four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence," says Ms McCloy. "This is something the children need to understand and we want to encourage this type of ethos, for while they might not have issues, the community may."

The idea was the brain child of St Ninian's depute head, Danny Corbett, and East Dunbartonshire's equalities and inclusion officer at the time, Mary Larkin.

"We wanted to build confidence in our students, and to follow up on the themes of A School of Ambition," explains Mr Corbett. "We discussed with staff the best way to link this with A Curriculum for Excellence, and came up with the idea. If a child is not confident, it is a likely bigot - bigots don't tend to be confident."

Art provided the central focus, with St Ninian's principal of art and design, Maggi McNeill, swapping ideas with Ms McCloy. "We used print making, paintings, and textiles to produce work under the theme of anti-sectarianism," recalls Ms McNeill. "Puppets were made of superheroes who'd fight sectarianism. In English, the children wrote essays on the subject, and these were exchanged with the other school."

A lot of groundwork was required, admits Ms McNeill. "There was a lot of planning at the start, particularly with Danny and Mary, but we pulled together design briefs. We used artists with messages - Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, also Banksy - contemporary artists. We met with St Ninian's to discuss everything, and emails were going back and forth regularly."

The link between subjects was easy. "We talked about slogans," says Ms McCloy; "about shapes and colours which they could use. There was some great dialogue going on. The students didn't feel they were being assessed on their literacy but their language was being developed without them realising.

"In modern studies, Orange walks and football sectarianism were used in discussions. In history, questions were asked, such as 'Was sectarianism always there?' In English they covered Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard. In RMPS, classes looked at why particular faiths believe what they do. ICT got involved, using Paint for the graphics of the pictures. In drama, the students did role-playing exercises."

The culmination of last year's work was an informal meeting, with staff and pupils from St Ninian's visiting Kirkintilloch High. Both schools took the opportunity to discuss the ongoing work and compare notes. The afternoon consisted of workshops on drama and language, as well as an art exhibition, and the pupils all mixed really well. Staff had received training on delivery, and the theatre company Baldy Bain performed a show and workshops.

This year, each school has run things slightly differently. Kirkintilloch High chose to involve Primary 7 pupils who were invited to the school. "Due to limited funding, we did not meet up with St Ninian's," says Ms McCloy, "which was a bit of a drawback, but there is still plenty of communication between the two schools and we are now thinking that Glow could be used to build links for pupils to keep in touch and discuss projects."

At St Ninian's, the chance has been taken to build up community relationships and widen the remit, looking at cultures throughout the world. "We wanted to build links with schools in our catchment area so involved three of the primaries as well as students from Glasgow School of Art," says Ms McNeill. "Phase one involved a day spent on all three campuses. In phase two, the Primary 7s came over to join us for art classes for three weeks."

One of the many benefits of the project was for assessment. "Assessment for Learning is always used here in art, but this gave us the chance to use it more in other subjects," says Ms McCloy.

"If children are confident in one subject, cross-curricular work can help them become more confident in another. A child may not be feeling that great in one of the morning classes and not get much from it. By lunchtime he may be feeling better and, because both classes are relating to the same topic, this might trigger something and help him remember the earlier lesson."

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