Piling the good upon a tragedy

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Five years after he was killed, the Philip Lawrence award scheme is going strong. Biddy Passmore meets his widow.

"Out of something tragic has come something very positive."

That is the way Frances Lawrence thinks of the awards for good citizenship set up in memory of her husband Philip, the headmaster stabbed to death just over five years ago when he tried to protect a pupil from a gang.

Yesterday, Home Office minister Paul Boateng and newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald, who chairs the judging panel, were to join Mrs Lawrence to launch the fifth round of awards in London.

"Everyone said they wouldn't last longer than three years," says Mrs Lawrence, an English teacher who is visibly pleased by the way the awards have flourished. They reward outstanding achievements in good citizenship - especially if they are anti-crime, anti-violence or anti-racism - by young people aged 11 to 20. Last year, nearly 100 entries produced a shortlist of 20 and seven award-winners.

The first prize of pound;1,500 went to 23 young volunteers visiting clubs to advise clubbers under 18 on safety issues, alcohol and drug abuse - and included talking to bouncers.

Pretty, pale and hesitant, Frances Lawrence seems an unlikely public champion for the scheme. Forced into the limelight in December 1995, she has been speaking out on fundamental issues ever since.

Shortly after her husband's death at St George's School in Maida Vale, she said government moves to tighten laws on the possession of knives were not enough. She called for a national forum to provide guidance on a return to spiritual values.

The following autumn, she issued a "Manifesto for the Nation" in The Times, urging the banishment of violence and encouragement of civic values. Shortly after, the then Home Secretary Michael Howard announced the setting up of the Philip Lawrence awards.

Not only have the awards survived, the scheme is growing. This year, for the first time,entries will be invited from Northern Ireland. And the National Youth Agency, which took over the running of the scheme from the Home Office last year, plans to make it a year-long calendar of activities. A fellowship network of winners and a website featuring community schemes are planned.

But that depends on attracting more money from sponsors, who currently range from the National Union of Teachers to Coutts bank.

The awards already generate their own momentum. A skateboarding group from Clitheroe, for instance, advises others wanting to set up similar schemes and has put together an advice pack. Past winners are also becoming increasingly involved in judging and may eventually take on most of the running of the scheme.

Involving young people in this way is central to the way Mrs Lawrence sees citizenship. "If you don't ask them to take responsibility, they will step back," she says.

She is worried that introducing citizenship into the curriculum as a separate subject in 2002 will make it too theoretical. "We ought to ask not just what pupils learn but, within each subject, how do we inform pupils about citizenship, how do we make rounded human beings?" she says.

Her three daughters have now left home, the eldest to become a teacher. Only her 13-year-old son Lucien is left and he has won a part in the Harry Potter film.

A full-time teacher at a school in Ealing, west London, she is leaving her current teaching post in July "for personal reasons" and will probably spend more time on the awards scheme, as well as pursuing "education in some form". "I love teaching," she says intensely.

For information about the awards, contact: Information Services, National Youth Agency, 17-23 Albion Street, Leicester LE1 6GD. Tel: 0116 285 3792, fax: 0116 285 3775, e-mail: dutydesk@nya.org.uk. Entries must be in by early September and the awards are presented on December 8, the anniversary of Mr Lawrence's death

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