Valuable lesson for all generations

29th July 2011 at 01:00
Cathkin Nursery turned Curriculum for Excellence into a curriculum for the community with an award-winning family training project, as Henry Hepburn reports

Cathkin Community Nursery is officially the best in Scotland, largely because its work extends way beyond the little ones who troop in every day.

The South Lanarkshire nursery, which scored across-the-board "excellents" in an HMIE inspection last year, wants to make its surrounding community a better place - and that might mean working as intently with a 30-year-old as a three-year-old.

When a delegation from the Rutherglen nursery travelled to Glasgow for the Scottish Education Awards in June, their party included Kimberley Burns, a mum whose success epitomises the Cathkin ethos.

Kimberley is one of the nursery's most enthusiastic mums, but it was not always that way. For 18 months, weighed down by low self-confidence and personal troubles, she barely spoke to anyone.

"One of the most important issues is, absolutely, to support the children, but we wanted to support her, too," says headteacher Liz Mercer.

Cathkin secured pound;10,000 from the National Lottery's Awards for All fund for a "family training project", open to the wider community, which covered several issues including health and ICT.

From that starting point, with unstinting support from Cathkin staff, Kimberley discovered a hitherto untapped love of education and faith in her own parenting skills, and has been accepted onto an administration college course.

"We are very proud of Kimberley," says Mrs Mercer. She has turned her life around, and feels that she is now a great role model for her children."

Cathkin "quickly realised that Curriculum for Excellence is actually a curriculum for the community", said the Cambuslang and Rutherglen Health Initiative, which nominated the nursery for the Partnership for Learning prize it won at the Scottish Education Awards.

"Community" means many things at Cathkin, one being the close bond with the other schools on a shared campus. Mrs Mercer meets regularly with the Cathkin High and Rutherglen High heads to find ways their pupils might work together.

"What we've got is quite unique," she says. "We're making best use of each other's resources."

The pre-school children join in practical maths classes with teenagers from Rutherglen High, an additional needs school. The older pupils come in and read each week to the nursery children, to mutual benefit: the younger ones become more aware of special needs and the older children's attainment in reading picks up.

Cathkin staff's work is shaped by thinking ahead to a time, many years from now, when children will be making their way in the community on their own; it is never too early, believes Mrs Mercer, to be instilling respect for where one lives.

"I think it's really important for children to see that we work with other people and that things are not just confined to our nursery," Mrs Mercer says. "If we all work together, life will be better for our children."

Some of the children's most successful excursions outside the nursery have been to Camglen Radio, where they have even taken over the airwaves at the local station, leading discussion about healthy eating and auctioning off a bike donated by the East Kilbride branch of Halfords. Staff are trained in radio production to ensure such opportunities can be repeated.

"Our jobs are absolutely for the children, but we are also in the community and we are enabling parents and staff to feel good about themselves," Mrs Mercer says. "We create a culture of self-belief. It sounds corny, but that is honestly what we feel."

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