Primary pupils pick up the secondary beat

30th July 2010 at 01:00
A `rhythm consultant' and cookery workshops are encouraging children to work together and feel secure in a new environment

"Ree-spect," booms Suleman Chebe before The Awesome people take on The Loud Drummers in a head-to-head contest.

The soon-to-be-S1s hammer out the rhythms they have worked on over the past 10 to 15 minutes, palms bearing down on the drums between their knees.

Smiles, withering looks and desperate hand gestures are exchanged, as they attempt to recreate what they have practised. The Awesome People are declared the winners.

Mr Chebe, who is originally from Ghana, turned drumming into his livelihood seven years ago. After September 11, he took it upon himself to visit schools to demonstrate Muslims were "not all bad". The drum he carried got a lot of attention, and the realisation dawned that he could set himself up as a "rhythm consultant", offering drumming workshops and performances for schools and companies.

Today he is helping P7 pupils, on the cusp of entering S1 at Firrhill High in Edinburgh, to get to know each other.

Firrhill High's health and well-being festival was run for the first time last year. It marks the mid-point of the pupils' three-day visit to the secondary ahead of their permanent move after the summer. In August, Firrhill will welcome 181 children from five feeder primaries - Bonaly, Colinton, Pentland, Longstone and Oxgangs.

Headteacher John Wood says: "There are two sides to the work we do to ensure a smooth transition. We want there to be continuity of the pastoral provision - the children getting used to us and us getting to know them - and continuity in learning. It's important children don't finish primary and then have a fresh start in secondary."

Moving into the dance session, it seems this year's festival has an African theme. Instructor Jo Stroud bounds around in front of the class to Shakira's "Waka Waka" - the World Cup official anthem. "Remember you are supposed to be tribal warriors," she says. Also on the timetable are cookery, badminton, hockey, rugby and basketball.

In home economics, pupils are making tortilla chips and dip. Principal teacher Ros Ranger says: "It's about raising the children's awareness of what we do here in terms of promoting health and well-being, so they find out about extra-curricular activities, they get brain gym with their guidance teachers and learn how to prepare a healthy snack."

Humza Iqbal, 11, from Oxgangs Primary, is delighted to be free to work his magic in the kitchen. "This has been my first time cooking," he says. "My mum doesn't let me, because she says she can't trust me with the oven." He thinks he's going to prefer secondary to primary.

Drumming and cookery are popular sessions, but it is the other activities - rugby, hockey, dance, badminton - that Fiona Damen, active schools co- ordinator, is keen to get the pupils hooked on.

"At the end of the day, pupils will get a list of all the clubs and extra- curricular activities they can take part in," she says. "All the sports they have had a taste of, they'll be able to continue in some form when they come here after the summer. There is a problem with a drop-off in activity when they hit high school, so we're trying to combat that."

The school is making a bid to get parents involved. About 15 run the hockey clubs and 10 volunteer for rugby, with others involved more generally. "We just don't have the funds like we used to, to bring in coaches," says Ms Damen.

Today Lilian McNab, whose daughter Shona and son Fergus attend Firrhill, is running the hockey taster session. She takes the S2 team training for an hour-and-a-half on a Monday night and attends matches on Saturday mornings.

"The opportunity to play competitive sport is an important aspect of extra-curricular education," she says. "I've had enormous fun and personal benefit from my hockey career. I wanted to give something back."

Pupils who need a bit more time to acclimatise, or who are simply looking for a challenge, can attend the Firrhill Summer School, run by primary and secondary staff for one week of the holidays.


Firrhill High in Edinburgh has been using computer game design to improve literacy and ease transitions to secondary.

The school has been working with P7 pupils from Pentland Primary on Adventure Author, pioneering software designed by researchers at Heriot- Watt University, which enables children to design computer games.

The software is based on foundations provided by Neverwinter Nights 2, a commercial fantasy game that includes a toolset for users to develop their own adventures.

"The pupils have been coming here twice a week for five weeks in the afternoon," says principal teacher of computing Susan Burns. "It's given the P7s a chance to see the school operating on a normal day and to get to know some of the staff."

As well as the thrill of new surroundings, the task set proved immensely popular. "They didn't want to go home at the end of the day, but they were learning so much - about characterisation, plot and how to work in a team," Ms Burns continues.

The work on Adventure Author will continue when the P7s join S1 at Firrhill after the holidays.

"Pentland pupils will be the experts and can help others get to grips with what they are doing," Ms Burns says.

In English, meanwhile, staff made links with feeder primaries to ensure the language used to get group discussion going was the same. They also shared information about the texts they plan to use in S1, so pupils can look at excerpts in primary.

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