Money in their hands, sleep in their eyes

7th March 2003 at 00:00
There is more ready cash around in Easterhouse because of new jobs and higher benefits but that has a downside for the kids.

"It gobsmacks me when I see children bringing in pound;2-pound;3 a day to spend on sweets and juice," Muriel Laing, head of Bishoploch primary, told the conference.

Nearly seven out of 10 of the school's 180 pupils are entitled to free meals and 87 per cent are on clothing grants. But with mothers who are often able to pick up more low paid work - sometimes three part-time jobs a day - there is more money around.

Mrs Laing has witnessed significant changes in 20 years and has watched the school's roll plummet from 510 to 180, partly a reflection of the area regeneration which has seen the postwar blocks torn down and replaced by terraced houses.

Despite progress, many children continue to live in chaotic families and are often tired when they come to school.

"You sometimes wonder what happens to them from the time they leave school at night till they arrive in the morning," she said. "One of the huge issues is to encourage the stamina and tenacity of youngsters because they give up quite easily.

"They have low self-esteem, self-awareness and self-respect. A lot of them have already classed themselves as failures and because of the generations of unemployment, there are still low aspirations."

Children preferred to be spoonfed and were more comfortable with passive learning.

Poor physical health was a further barrier to learning, one major reason why the school has had drinking water available for some years, introduced a breakfast club and focused on diet and exercise. All P1-P7 children are taken swimming and offered sports coaching.

Mrs Laing described the school's philosophy as "no excuses". Children were expected to achieve their potential like any other pupil in any other part of the city. Attendance levels run at 95 per cent and there is a no-exclusions policy.

"I'm proud of the fact that we have not excluded a child for about nine years - but it's hard work," Mrs Laing confessed.

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