Period 7 is in a class of its own

1st May 2009 at 01:00
It is not often you find staff and pupils want to spend extra time together willingly

A stirling secondary has added an 80-minute period onto the school day - and seen the idea embraced by staff and pupils.

The pioneering move at St Modan's High is designed to integrate a diverse range of non-examined activities into school life, including Italian cookery, rock-climbing and gardening.

While a number of Scottish schools are experimenting with timetables, the scale of the St Modan's project marks it out: every S1-4 pupil has taken part, and almost all of S5-6.

The move was singled out for praise in an HMIE report published on March 31, with inspectors impressed by the "extension of the curriculum to provide physical, creative and enterprise activities for all young people".

"Period 7" has taken place on Mondays since the start of the school year, from 2.50pm-4.10pm, with the start of the day brought forward to 8.30am and transport paid for to minimise disruption to families. Next year, the school is planning to make Period 7 available from Monday to Friday during six-week blocks - all transport would still be paid for - although attendance would only be mandatory on Mondays, and only then for S1- 4s.

Headteacher Frank Lennon explained that Period 7 was not only for pupils' benefit, but broadened the notion of teachers' professionalism. The school, he said, has dispensed with the word "extra-curricular"; all skills and expertise should be part of the main curriculum. Staff, pupils and parents have responded well. The number of staff leading activities - of which there have been 40 - increased from 22 in August to 36 in January. These have included a business teacher doing magic, an English teacher taking Italian cookery, and a physics teacher showing how to play the guitar.

Some also take part in activities alongside pupils. They, as well as those leading the task, can count the 80-minute sessions towards their contractual continuing professional development, which Mr Lennon described as a "new definition of CPD".

Graham Boyce, principal Schools of Ambition teacher, said staff liked being "a little bit more relaxed" with children, away from the demands of the exams and attainment targets. Pupils, in turn, saw teachers in a different light, and, knowing that they were not contractually bound to participate in Period 7, gained increased respect for them.

The strengthening relationships between staff and pupils, said Mr Boyce, were having positive knock-on effects for the rest of the school day.

S3 pupil Alison Savage, 14, said Period 7 gave her the chance to work with people she did not know. She admitted, however, that pupils at other schools thought St Modan's people were "quite weird" for enjoying a longer day.

Stephen Gilmour, 14, a fellow S3 pupil, said it was better than spending the late afternoon in front of the television. Period 7 allowed him more time with friends; the school has pupils from three local authorities and is not in a residential area, so it can otherwise be difficult to meet up.

Another S3 pupil, 15-year-old Richard Lennon, said it had opened his eyes to new interests, including cricket and subtitled cinema.

Audrey Farley, chair of the Parent Teacher Association and mother of S4 pupil Rebecca, said: "It's fantastic that I can send my children to a state school and have all these opportunities at no additional cost."

The idea was formulated years ago - preceding A Curriculum for Excellence, Mr Lennon said - but given impetus with Schools of Ambition funding. It became a reality after last year's move to new premises. The range of possible activities has been further expanded by this month's opening of a nearby "sports village".

Period 7 has also involved local businesses, and Forth Valley College is to provide health and beauty classes.

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