The outward bound confidence lift for secondary-bound pupils

11th February 2011 at 00:00
Awards scheme puts children through their paces at outdoor activities to give them a boost for the move to secondary school

Older primary pupils have short attention spans, are a danger to themselves and should not be let outside the classroom for more than a few hours. That, at least, is often the impression when many pupils' only experience of organised outdoor activities is one-off taster sessions.

A new project in Edinburgh aims to turn that idea on its head, by taking inspiration from the long-established Duke of Edinburgh scheme and applying its format to P6 to S2.

Junior Awards Scheme Scotland, like the more famous programme for older pupils, aims to take young people outwith their comfort zone through physical activity, new skills and self-planned expeditions, stretched over one or two terms.

The Edinburgh and Lothians branch of Friends of the Award, which provides support for Duke of Edinburgh initiatives, had become acutely aware of some children's struggle to cope with the move from primary to secondary. JASS - which has Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, like Duke of Edinburgh - was seen as a way of equipping pupils for the big school.

Lynn Molleson, one of the driving forces behind JASS, says Curriculum for Excellence has allowed the creation of a personal achievement award for younger people, which is flexible and has measurable outcomes.

She and her colleagues have the full backing of city council education leader Marilyne MacLaren, who says: "Activities that promote a healthy lifestyle, a community ethos and personal responsibility are exactly what young people need to complement their school education."

Currie Primary has thrown itself into a JASS pilot. All 50 P6 pupils are taking part in what amounts to three hours every Friday morning for a full school year, tackling activities such as canoeing, climbing and navigation. Headteacher Elizabeth Wood considers the prolonged, in-depth and structured nature of JASS far preferable to taster sessions.

"This is not box-ticking or paying lip service - 50 children are out there every Friday lapping it up and really learning new skills," she says. "Some just needed pointing in the right direction and were off, but the first of four 10-week blocks have given the timid, the awkward and the unco-ordinated time to gain confidence and get on in there."

This is Mrs Wood's first foray into a tailor-made partnership with outside providers - there are 21 involved in JASS altogether - having previously accepted the "constraints and inherent shortcomings of ready-made courses". Preparation with partners at Telford College have eaten up a lot of time, but resulted in a quality of outdoor education the school could not have achieved on its own.

Although it was hoped that JASS would do much to help children who struggled at school, Mrs Wood finds that those who usually sail through classroom work have also gained. The experience of being a beginner, and sometimes having little natural aptitude, has taught important lessons about hard work and perseverance.

There are 12 P6 youngsters from Fet-Lor Youth Centre doing JASS's four sections: My Interests; Me and My World; Adventure; and Get Active, Stay Active. The youth centre, a collaboration between Edinburgh City Council, charitable donors and independent schools Fettes College and Loretto School, aims to provide a haven for the children from Muirhouse and Pilton, in the north of the city, whose lives can be extremely challenging.

For Adventure, the pupils did a strenuous walk around Arthur's Seat, exploring its history, revelling in the views, and enjoying getting wet and muddy. Other activities include gymnastics, dancing and swimming. A sponsored bike ride is planned for Me and My World.

"Most importantly, JASS accredits the participants for all the positive activity they get involved in - something that is often lost when young people are talked about," says Fet-Lor's Mark Foster.

"We're planning a second JASS group for P7s with slightly more demanding activities; another benefit of the scheme is that it can be progressive and pitched at the appropriate level."

The Royston Wardieburn Community Education Centre, also in a northern part of Edinburgh long seen as disadvantaged, joined the pilot with eight P7s. The pupils made a film as part of My Interests and will complete the other sections in the summer before going on to secondary school.

"It's a new experience for me and it's quite hard to make sure everyone is involved," says director Emma, 11.

The youngsters have also been learning new camera skills, says Iona, also 11: "One of my favourites was tricking viewers into thinking we had run straight through a wall."

A computer system has been set up for the children to enter comments about what they have been doing and what they have learnt. Certification, which can confer credibility in the eyes of young people, is another benefit extolled by youth workers.

JASS is stretching beyond its Edinburgh beginnings. In Perth and Kinross Council, Janice Douglas says it "appears to fit seamlessly with the already well-established accredited framework for youth services". Two pilots are planned, and it is hoped the programme will eventually run across the authority.

An evaluation of the JASS pilot is nearing completion. From May 2011, it will enable pupils from across Scotland to take big strides beyond tokenistic tasters.


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