Oranges are not the only fruit

9th March 2001 at 00:00
PUPIL: Can ah get wan o' they lemons, sir?TEACHER (picking up the fruit): Actually, this lemon is a pear.

Teacher Charlie Fawcett uses this classroom exchange, which did happen, to demonstrate the challenge he faced when he initiated the Healthy Lifestyles pilot project at Rosehall High School in Coatbridge in 1999.

"The pupils could recognise apples, oranges and bananas, and that was about it," he says. "Now they can recognise by taste as well as sight, different kinds of apples, oranges, berries and melons. And they know their kiwi fruits, star fruits and grapes."

The success of the pilot scheme led to its further development this session with an award of pound;8,995 from the Scotland Against Drugs Challenge Fund. What was initially an S12 initiative is now a whole school project involving all staff, including janitorial and ancillary, as well as pupils.

Its aim is to increase healthy eating and exercise, including participation in after-school sport, but it also encompasses drugs and alcohol advice, and health and safety education.

"It is about empowering young people and has a specific remit to facilitate peer education and encourage youth leadership," says Mr Fawcett, assistant principal teacher of physics at the school and the project's coordinator.

He clearly has his work cut out. Coatbridge has the worst health statistics in Western Europe and the Kirkshaws housing estate, in which the school is situated, is, according to Scottish Office statistics from 1995, in the top 1 per cent for deprivation in Scotland. The area is part of the Social Inclusion Partnership (SIP) for South Coatbridge. It is the only health-based SIP in Scotland.

"This is the kind of holistic approach which can have a positive effect," says SAD's director Alastair Ramsay. "SAD can't march into local communities and tell people what to do. We can act as a catalyst to make things happen locally when local people come up with ideas to address local issues."

Any school with a healthy lifestyles project could apply to the SAD Challenge Fund, provided there is a drugs education element to it, says Mr Ramsay.

"You have to remember drugs are not about substances. It's about people and how they live their lives. According to the Office for National Statistics' 1998 figures (the latest available), in Scotland 82 per cent of young people between the ages of 11 and 15 choose not to use drugs. Projects like Rosehall's help promote positive models for lives free of drugs."

The Rosehall project was initially targetted at pupils on free school meals and clothing grants; pupils who had been suspended or excluded, had aggressive behavioural problems or were known to have experimented with drugs; and pupils whose domestic circumstances were in difficulty for a variety of reasons.

"This developed into a whole school approach," says Mr Fawcett. "Really it had to make sense, especially when you consider that 50 per cent of our pupils are on free school meals or clothing grants and about 70 per cent fall into one of those categories."

Bleep tests have been introduced to improve cardiovascular fitness as part of a structured fitness regime which involves staff and pupils. Mr Fawcett claims it has improved the fitness of 75 per cent of the school roll of 500.

"It's also about advancing social inclusion. We now have a full range of after-school and weekend activities including basketball, netball, football, rugby, weight-lifting, golf, swimming and badminton.

"We recognise every person's achievement, whatever their weight or size. That's a key feature: to set attainable and sustainable targets for all. And every after-school activity gets free fruit," says Mr Fawcett.

"Eat Your Heart Out!" is the slogan of the fruit campaign. Fresh fruit consumption has quadrupled this session, says Mr Fawcett, and everyone in the school has tried fresh fruit, which is also served at the Breakfast Club (countered by a hot roll to attract the pupils). The breakfasts have improved punctuality and attendance among pupils who research showed had either nothing for breakfast on a regular basis (23 per cent) or had crisps or sweets (27 per cent), with only 2 per cent having a cooked breakfast.

The fruit is supplied at wholesale prices, costing (and saving) pound;6,000 per annum. Sold on to pupils at a low cost, it is part of the holistic, multi-faceted approach of the project (known to school wags as "multi-Fawcetted").

"For example," says Mr Fawcett, "Forsyth's Fresh Fruit Ltd delivers daily at cost price and this goes to pupils through our Fruit Shack. But we also donate some to the home economics department where seniors prepare it much in the manner of - and I kid you not - Marks and Spencers' fruit salads. These salads are given to staff and pupils for a 30p donation.

"That donation goes to the St Andrew's Ambulance who receive pound;500 a year from it. In response, St Andrew's help deliver our health science curriculum, for which mannequins are donated by the British Heart Foundation, while Monklands Hospital delivers training to staff for emergency life skills. We have 25 staff trained here in what is the heart attack capital of Europe."

Mr Fawcett says Rosehall is the only school in Scotland to teach health science as part of the formal curriculum, with every S2 pupil being taught emergency life skills (also sponsored by the British Heart Foundation).

Peer-led and peer-support initiatives include S2 health science pupils making their own displays; and writing and performing songs, poems and dances for S1s and parents. Last year, two S2 pupils even conducted their own health and drugs survey.

This peer-led investigation found that pupils were told about drugs by three main sets of people: parentguardian, teacher, or people who came into school. Of the 25 S2 respondees, 14 had seen needles on the street; 16 had been offered cigarettes, 14 alcohol and five drugs (some having been offered all three); 13 said the offers had put them under pressure; and 22 said they supported SAD.

Empowering pupils to be pro-active helps offer them a credible alternative to poor health behaviour and drug-taking. One response from pupils has been that they want a health professional in the school, who is not a teacher, to give them advice. It is hoped that funds will be raised for this to happen.

Established public partners in the Healthy Lifestyles Project are Lanarkshire Health Board, Strathclyde Police, the British Heart Foundation, Monklands Hospital and St Andrew's Ambulance. The New Opportunities Fund is also giving pound;42,000 over three years to enhance the free fruit after-school initiative, extend the after-school activities, and subsidise footwear and clothing for those activities.

The list of private partners - Universal Sports, Monklands Youth Rugby Club, Forsyth's Fresh Fruit and Waysiders Drumpellier RFC - will soon be joined by Boots the Chemist, which is giving pound;5,000 to extend the project to two primary schools (Old Monklands and St Monica's). If this pilot is successful, it will be extended to all 11 primaries in the area.

"Anything we do has to be part of an overall strategy and anything the school does should address the community," says Mr Fawcett. "Health is related to poverty and deprivation which have detrimental consequences for attainment, attendance, exclusion in the formal educational setting and social exclusion beyond.

"However, if we are truly serious about advancing social inclusion for children and their families, then the real issue is social justice. This, in effect, means creating meaningful and sustainable employment. If youngsters improve in health, fitness, self-esteem and hence attendance, surely they have earned the reward of the opportunity for a full-time, reasonably paid, permanent job. That's what a holistic approach means, isn't it?" In 2001-02, SAD intends to spend 10 per cent of its budget in schools - "a significant proportion," says director Alastair Ramsay. "We hope to mop-up schools who did not take part in the primary school initiative facilitated by the pound;1 million Tom Farmer raised to train one teacher and headteacher in every Scottish primary.

"We also want to train secondary teachers in a similar way, and we're looking at special needs provision, but it's too early to say what the approach will be here.

"However, we are negotiating sponsorship with British Telecom who are coming on board to help finance a pre-five children's initiative," he says.

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