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Thank heaven for little things

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has revealed his personal thoughts on what makes a good citizen to a class of primary children in the Stirling area.

Gordon Brown's letter was one of a number of responses from local and national figures who were approached by P6 pupils from Killearn primary to make a contribution to their citizenship and values project.

Mr Brown responded to a query from Jennifer Stewart by suggesting she might be interested in the words of Dr James Stockinger, an American sociologist and visiting professor at Berkeley University, California, who wrote:

"It is the hands of others who grow the food we eat, sew the clothes we wear and build the homes we inhabit. It is the hands of others who tend us when we are sick and who raise us up when we fall. And it is the hands of others who lift us first from the cradle and lower us finally into the grave."

Mr Brown said: "This passage shows that we are not isolated individuals but how we all depend on each other. It recognises society as a community of citizens with common needs, mutual interests, shared objectives, related goals and, most of all, linked destinies.

"I am sure you will be receiving lots of interesting views about citizenship while you are working on this project and I hope this is a helpful contribution."

Another pupil, Iain Beaton, corresponded with Andrew McLellan, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, who wrote back saying he believed there were three parts to being a good citizen.

"The first is to understand that we all belong together. What happens to other people affects me, and I cannot be completely happy while someone else is completely sad. The second is to discover that that means we cannot always do just what we want. Sometimes I might want to do something, but I stop doing it because I think of the damage it will do to other people.

"The third is to remember what we have been given by people who were citizens before us. Good citizens of any country will be proud of the good things in the story of their country, and sorry for the bad things."

The Prime Minister's office replied, apologising that because of the many calls on Tony Blair's time it was impossible for him to send his personal comments, but adding that he was impressed by the values of the school and wished the children well.

Businessman Sir Arnold Clark, who lives in the Killearn area, told another pupil, Euan Michie, that in 50 years in the car dealership business it had always been his policy to offer quality, service and value and to keep his promises.

"Another thing I believe in is to treat others how you would like to be treated yourself - with courtesy and respect," Mr Michie wrote.

The offices of the Queen and Prince William thanked the P6 letter-writers for their correspondence, while education official Katherine Johnston replied on behalf of First Minister Jack McConnell and Education Minister Peter Peacock, offering encouragement and telling the pupils that the Scottish Parliament's values were wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity.

Joanne Scott, the school's headteacher, said that two major initiatives in education for citizenship formed part of the core curriculum and had helped to build the ethos of school.

"This term P6 were doing research on values. First of all, they interviewed a wide variety of people in school - parents, other people in the community and people in business in the community. Then they went to people in education and famous people, and wrote to members of the Government and royalty. They got lots of letters back which formed the basis of discussion," she said.

The pupils have now compiled a "Big Book of Values" which they have been sharing with other people. Their next step will be to hold focus groups with the local community to review the school's values. Children will facilitate these conversations alongside an adult.

Meanwhile, the P7s have been setting down the criteria that make up a good citizen and as part of the task have been asking people in their village to nominate good citizens. They filmed interviews with those who had been nominated, and planned and organised an evening event to which they were invited.

One couple whose names were put forward were Alan and Margaret Geekie who ran Hallowe'en parties for 30 years and are now in their 80s. They thought they had drifted into the background and been forgotten.

The impact of the project, Mrs Scott said, was summed up by the words of one pupil, who said: "I've learnt that to be a good citizen you don't have to be one of these really smart people - it's all the little things that make a difference. You can be an ordinary person."

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