In the news

23rd October 2009 at 01:00

Justina Duggan

Who is she?

Justina Duggan is head of sixth form at Beacon Hill School in Tyne and Wear, which caters for pupils aged three to 19 with severe and profound multiple learning difficulties and autism. She recently led the Beacon Hill Film Project; her students' work, The Pirate and the Mermaid and The Middle of Nowhere, were premiered in Newcastle upon Tyne two weeks ago.

How did the project start?

In 2005, Ms Duggan asked Arpeggio Films, a Newcastle-based independent film production company, to run a skills workshop for pupils taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. Ms Duggan says: "We took cameras and film footage on our residential course for the award. Will Sadler (of Arpeggio) took the footage home and edited it. It all led from there."

Who attended the premiere?

More than 170 people, including Barry Norman, film critic and former presenter of BBC TV's Film Night. He described the work as "two enchanting little films, each made and acted with great verve, infectious enthusiasm and off-the-wall originality". Ms Duggan said: "My favourite comment was when Barry talked about their professionalism. This is so important because it shows that, despite their learning difficulties, students can demonstrate a great deal of professionalism."

What was the highlight?

"The premiere," Ms Duggan said. "Seeing the students gain the confidence to stand up on stage and present the evening to a vast amount of people was amazing."

Will she be running the project again?

"Yes, definitely, (but) it is very difficult to organise. The students had to go off-timetable, yet still needed to study hard for their main subjects. I also had to make sure the staff levels were appropriate for those on the film workshops and in the ordinary classroom."

What has she learnt from it?

"When I started working with children with learning difficulties, I didn't believe they had the capacity to be creative. I thought it was too difficult to bring out that side. I was narrow in what I did with the pupils. But since working on this project, they have amazed me with how technically imaginative they are, and they've grown so much in confidence. Some now want careers as actors or working in production, which is great."

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