Public and private mix to teach media

9th January 2009 at 00:00
A state secondary and a fee-paying school are bringing pupils together for lessons in communications

"Does anyone know who Rupert Murdoch is?" asks Ali Lawrence, English and media studies teacher at St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh.

Cue blank faces, shrugging of shoulders and puzzled glances. At least these teenagers from St George's and Craigroyston Community High have one thing in common: nobody has ever heard of the media mogul and owner of everything from the Fox cable channel to The Sun newspaper.

St George's is a Pounds 10,000-a-year fee-paying school, while Craigroyston, also in Edinburgh, serves a deprived area of the city and almost half the pupils end up not in employment, education or training.

But how much the youngsters have in common has been the surprising thing about this project, which brings together eight pupils from the two schools for classes in media literacy.

Ms Lawrence, who runs the after-school class every Monday, says: "We are not a narrow school where we shut the gates on everyone. We try to teach the girls that there is all sorts of diversity out there. It's about preparing them for the world of work, where there won't be just people from independent school backgrounds."

She says the presence of the Craigroyston pupils has added to lessons. "It has also brought a new dynamic to the class," she says. "A whole range of new topics, opinions and viewpoints has been opened up. It's been very exciting, and for me it has been great to work with students from another school. This has reaffirmed my belief that young people are just fantastic."

The five Craigroyston pupils admit they found the idea of attending a private school daunting. Josh Mackay, in S6, says he felt a "bit iffy" at the thought of coming to St George's, but is more relaxed now. "You realise they aren't much different from you - they're just from a different background," says the 17-year-old.

Jordyn Hutchison, depute head girl at Craigroyston, said she felt "weird" about coming to St George's at first, but soon learned that you should not stereotype.

The setting is strange because it is new, they say, but they do not feel the school is all that different from their own. But there is, of course, the all-girl element.

Josh talks about the three boys' fears of being "attacked" by female pupils starved of male company. Fortunately (or unfortunately, perhaps, in the boys' eyes), these fears were not realised.

But St George's pupils Jenni Jones, 15, and Anisa Sajid, 17, say they enjoy having a male contingent in the class because of their "totally different opinions to girls".

Ms Lawrence also says it has been beneficial. "It's good for (St George's pupils) to see the male point of view - they've got to acknowledge there is one," she says.

"Our girls are very strong-minded. They grow up thinking there are no barriers to them. Then you get a boy with a different point of view and they go at it hammer and tongs."

But in class, it is not the St George's girls who dominate.

When the roles are being dished out for the publication which the pupils must produce at the end of the course - a Higher national unit - the Craigroyston youngsters are much clearer about whether they want to be feature writers, photographers, designers or - in Jordyn's case - the editor. "I would just like to be the boss," she answers when it is her turn to choose a role.

At the end of the class, Ms Lawrence asks the pupils what they have learnt. "We learned about Rupert thingie," pipes up Anisa.

Not the expansive answer Ms Lawrence was perhaps hoping for, but maybe the most important lesson this course can deliver has nothing to do with the media.

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