Plugged into local needs and interests

27th February 2004 at 00:00
Looking for ways to make the curriculum more appealing? One secondary school has tuned in to the possibilities of broadcasting and plans to share its radio station, reports Karen Shead

After the Easter holidays, everyone at Dundee's Braeview Academy hopes to get their new community-based FM radio station on air. Walking around the empty room where it will be based, it looks like an ambitious plan, but the staff are confident.

"It will soon be a hub of activity," says English teacher David Souter, who is also secretary of the Braeview Broadcasting Group (BBG). "It won't take us long to turn the room around. We are just waiting for the licence and to get the go-ahead to build the wall."

The station will have two sections: the broadcasting studio and, separated by the proposed wall, a room where people can prepare programmes. The co-ordinator will be based in an office next door.

All of the staff involved are enthusiastic about the project and bursting with ideas as to what kind of programmes could be broadcast on the radio.

Information about daily life in the school, reviews of theatre trips, commentary on football matches, cinema reviews, an agony aunt session, a homework line and news bulletins are proposed, mixed in with the traditional radio jingles.

Already a group of pupils of mixed age and ability have visited the Scottish Parliament and Bute House to interview Jack McConnell. "They had to prepare the questions they were going to ask, so they had to look at what was going on both locally and nationally," says Mr Souter. "It went really well."

The radio station will broadcast to a five-mile radius, covering about 65 per cent of Dundee. It will be open to the local community, so people outwith the school can record their own programmes, local bands can play and theatre groups can perform sketches to be broadcast. Several groups, from Tayside Police to Dundee Rep community department, have already expressed interest. Other schools within broadcasting range will also be involved.

Programmes will be pre-recorded so they can be edited before going on air.

"It will be a service that promotes learning, provides information on a range of issues and encourages partnership between the school and the community," says Mr Souter.

The aims of the station are also to tackle personal barriers (such as low self-esteem) and social exclusion, promote a culture of active citizenship and raise attainment.

Gordon Davidson, a social worker based at the school, says: "Projects like this look at ways of involving all pupils. For those with behavioural problems who may find it difficult to function well in class, this is a different avenue for them. It's not just about being good academically. And social work can be involved in this kind of project."

Lesley Denby, principal teacher for learning support and chairwoman of the BBG, says there will be several benefits for the pupils. "It will provide a lot of different learning experiences and give the children opportunities to do real tasks.

"Although we do talk in English classes, it's different from going out and talking to people. This will improve children's confidence and prepare them for job interviews. It's education in an experiential context."

Parents like to know what is going on in the school, she adds. "This is a good way of letting them know, as well as a way of fostering good relations.

"We want to make it a focal point of the area and hope that it will encourage more education in the community."

The radio station will be open to people of all age groups.

"There will be a lot of under-16s involvement on the committee and all age groups will be involved in the broadcasting process," says Mr Souter.

"It's also a great opportunity for our feeder primaries and it will strengthen the links between schools in the area."

To launch the station, funding of pound;20,000 has come from the Better Neighbourhood Services Fund and pound;3,000 from the local social inclusion partnership.

Although Braeview Academy staff say the project will start small, they hope it will expand.

"We plan initially to run the project within school hours and hope eventually to broaden it," says Mr Souter.

"We are almost ready to roll. We are preparing the material and as soon as we get the go-ahead we will set the room up. We hope to have a high-profile launch. Lorraine Kelly has agreed to come."

The next step is to secure funding to employ a co-ordinator who will work solely on the radio station. The school also hopes to get SQA accreditation for courses that will deal with the technical side of running the radio station.

Former headteacher Alan Wilson, who was involved in the project before retiring at Christmas, says the school has been looking for methods and outlets to make education as attractive as possible. "We want pupils to have activities they can do and like, and I can see countless opportunities arising from this radio station."

Acting headteacher David May is equally supportive. "I am very keen on the idea of the radio station. It will be a good point of contact with the school and the community and it will extend the links we already have with the community."

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