Why a colourful dream lives on

7th April 2000 at 01:00
A Ramadan lunch club, a board game and senior students training first years in matters of equality, all feature in Drummond Community High's campaign against racism. Meanwhile, at the predominantly white Torry Academy, a South African teacher with first-hand experience of intolerance keeps first years abreast of racial issues.

Both are examples of top-quality practice in equalities education across Scotland. Raymond Ross reports

There are no pupils at Drummond Community High school in Edinburgh, only students. "It's another little thing to make us feel better, more mature," says fifth year student Kyley Brown. "The word 'pupil' can be degrading. We're students."

Among the other little things valued by Kyley and her senior peers Nughmana Mirza, Ema Choudhury, Jon Preston, Kasim Razaq and Dawn Exley, are that teachers always pronounce their names correctly; text books use Asian as well as British names; racist and sexist graffiti is removed instantly; any racist or sexist bullying or name-calling is dealt with seriously and immediately; and the pupils themselves are empowered by the school's equalities education programme to further its aims in ways that they see fit.

"Equalities education has to be permanent and penetrate the whole ethos of the school, to promote lifelong learning and mutual respect," says Drummond's headteacher, Frank McGrail. "Teachers are encouraged to address equality issues in their subject teaching, particularly issues of structural inequality which result in racism, sexism and disadvantage based on disability and social class."

But it's not just the cross-curricular approach which impresses the group of seniors I spoke to.

"It's not so much the teaching of equalities education that affects you," says S6 student Dawn Exley. "It's more just in the general environment."

"I had problems at another secondary with racist bullying," says Kasim Razaq (S5), "and I came back here because here they get to the bottom of it and sort things out. There are more Asians here, because more is done here".

Ema Choudhury (S5) agrees: "The teachers take equalities more seriously here", while Dawn Exley (S6) says: "A lot of Asians are drawn here because the school is known for its friendly atmosphere."

Drummond has been at the forefront of equalities education for over two decades, but Frank McGrail does not pretend his inner city school is some kind of multicultural idyll. "For us the main evidence that equalities education is working is that when racist incidents occur, they are often reported by white Scots who are upset by friends being insulted," he says. "It's the kind of thing which is probably unreported in most schools and we rarely get extreme incidents. Equalities education has to be an important part of every school in the country, if we're going to create a society where everyone is valued."

The whole-school approach at Drummond is powered by an equalities group which involves a minimum of 10 staff, from class teachers to senior management.

"We've had this group for years," says the co-ordinator and principal teacher of guidance, Eileen Simpson. "There are no quick fixes. It takes years to build an ethos. Every teacher is involved, because the ethos is shared throughout the school. No one is required to join but there's never a shortage of volunteers. We have developed draft equality performance indicators for subject departments, currently out for consultation with staff. These cover policies, curriculum, assessment and racist or sexist incidents."

Among the strategies at Drummond are:

* Having clear guidelines for students and staff on equality issues;

* Holding an equality day for all S1 students, where seniors and staff work with the youngest students to discuss equality issues;

* Prmoting equality focussed work within and across the curriculum in S2, S3 and S4;

* Training seniors to develop awareness and understanding strategies for the school;

* Promoting tolerance and understanding through assemblies and classroom activities;

* Celebrating diversity by marking festivals from many communities in Edinburgh.

The school librarian, Annie Scanlon, is the co-ordinator of the festival group, a sub-committee of the equalities group. She says: "Our students come from a variety of cultures and religions, and it is important to give official recognition to festivals which are important to them. It's educational for the other students and it's also great fun to celebrate together, so that everyone is aware of the Chinese New Year, Diwali or Ramadan, for example.

"It begins in S1 where pupils are encouraged to research into festivals which are important to them or that they are interested in. We had a Diwali lunch last term and in the library we exhibit the students' work, culminating in a big exhibition in June.

"I get a lot of requests from subject departments for multicultural resources. In maths, for example, they will look at ancient cultures which were far more advanced mathematically than Scotland was at the time."

The school also runs multicultural support groups, so that students can talk about their background in a safe environment. "For example, we have formed a Ramadan club," says Eileen Simpson. "It's a lunchtime club for Muslims and their friends. Previously, Muslim students had nowhere to go at lunchtime when they were fasting. This is a club for all where there is no food. You have to take into account things like PE being difficult at this time, and that the students will often be thirsty because of fasting. We are now looking towards having a multi-faith room for all religions where any student can go to pray or contemplate."

The school's approach is symbolised by the Drummond Game for Equality, a board game which simulates early life experiences of different social and cultural groups. It has extensive teaching notes to enable it to be used as part of equality issues, with suggestions for involvement of seniors, and ideas for action.

At Drummond, seniors run equality workshops for S1 students using the board game and, following school policy and guidelines, they have also drawn up student guideline pamphlets on matters like racism and sexism.

"It's important that the seniors have ownership," says Ms Simpson, "and they now want to develop the issue of sexism to cover homphobia, because they feel this has to be addressed in the school. It's much more effective when it comes from S5 and S6 than from teachers. It's a big learning experience for them as well as for the S1s. And just as we have an equality in-service afternoon each session, so the S6 pupils train up the S5s in equality education and in using the board game."

For Frank McGrail, equalities education is "not just another issue". "Nobody qestions the value of drugs education but people do equalities education, though more in the past. But you can still get away with not doing equalities education. Hopefully that's changing.

"Our students meet other cultures on a day to day basis. We are a microcosm of society. Obviously, equalities education is important here, but I'd argue it was even more important in schools in a 'predominantly white' catchment area, because those students will have a very limited first-hand experience of other cultures and beliefs. So it's important for them if they are to play a part as educated citizens."

The Drummond Game for Equality, pound;19.99, from Drummond Community High School, 41 Bellevue Place, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS, tel: 0131 556 2651. Proceeds to the school equalities education scheme.

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