The science behind the sharing

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Co-location will allow pupils in first secondary built on a university campus to tap into academic life

Scotland's first secondary built on a university campus is expected to open its doors in three years.

Madras College in Fife is set to be built on land owned by Scotland's oldest university, thanks to a historic partnership between the council and St Andrews University.

The most likely site for the new school, which will cost the council pound;40 million, is beside the 600-year-old institution's North Haugh Campus, located on the outskirts of the town, and home to its science faculty, observatory and sports centre.

The partnership will also see the university investing pound;10 million in improving its sports hall, which the school would use.

Fife's education and children's services committee still has to sign off the deal, as does the university's court. However, those at the heart of the project expect it to be given the green light in April. It is a "no- brainer", they claim.

Research by council education chiefs and university academics has predicted the partnership would allow the Madras pupils to experience subjects not normally taught in schools, for example sustainable development and international relations. The co-location would also afford access to better sporting facilities, including the university's coaches and high-quality rugby, hockey and football facilities, and better support for additional support needs pupils.

The working group of council and university representatives also suggests the move could lead to an increase in the number of pupils going to university.

The school could tap into the university's expertise by, for instance, seeking advice on how to tackle bullying and truanting from the psychology department.

University students, meanwhile, could act as mentors and peer tutors - a scheme that would be "mutually beneficial", according to council and university officials. And social science students working on projects which involve surveys or observations of school settings would benefit from access to pupils and teachers at Madras, they said.

Conferences already provide an important income stream for the university: an additional hall at the new Madras College would offer "a unique facility for plenary conference and large poster sessions".

But science literacy is likely to be the greatest beneficiary from the partnership, says the working group, which is convened by Alyson Tobin, dean of the university's faculty of science. Other members include Ken Greer, Fife's executive director of education; Jack Jackson, former national science specialist at HMIE; and Ian Jones, head of Madras College.

"The St Andrews environment is ideal for nurturing a new generation of science-literate adults and for promoting greater interest in careers in science," they say in their report.

Chemistry, physics, astronomy (including the university's observatory), mathematics, statistics and computer science are all located at the North Haugh Campus, along with the Centre for Bio-molecular Sciences (biology and chemistry), and new buildings for the Medical Sciences and the Energy Research Centre.

The working group envisages enhanced CPD opportunities for teachers; more active learning for pupils; access to lectures and modern teaching laboratories; and opportunities for workshops and shared resources.

S6 pupils studying for the new science or languages baccalaureates would, for instance, work on their interdisciplinary project in near-by university departments, they say. And the current arrangement which gives S6 pupils from Madras and Bell Baxter High in Cupar access to the university library would be extended.

The report continues: "An increasing challenge to school pupils and students is to identify good, reliable and verifiable sources of information from the ever-expanding internet. Shared teaching and demonstration of electronic search engines and databases for teachers, pupils and students would serve to improve `digital literacy' for all participants."

Mr Jones described the opportunity for co-location as "the chance of a lifetime". He said: "This would be, without question, the best we could do for education and young people in North East Fife."

Madras College is currently a split-site school with S1-3 educated at its Kilrymont Road building and S4-6 educated a mile-and-a-half away on South Street. The North Haugh Campus is roughly a mile from the South Street building.

Mr Jones continued: "I hope that links with the university could develop organically, beginning in three areas: science, the expressive arts and PE."

Louise Richardson, principal and vice-chancellor of the university said: "This relationship between a university and a secondary school would be unique to Scotland.

"I believe the vision for Madras is a worthy continuation of Scotland's long and proud tradition of innovation in education and could serve as a model for future partnerships between schools, universities, colleges and industry.

"By taking a school to the heart of a university science campus, we are signalling with Fife Council our ambition to nurture new generations of science-literate students and to act as a catalyst for a closer bond between our secondary and higher education sectors."

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