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From their hearts and in their minds

From anti-semitism to inclusion, last month's Scottish Education Awards have shown how pupils of various ages and abilities have embraced such sensitive issues. Elizabeth Buie and Henry Hepburn report.

Firm friends is the name of the joint anti-sectarianism venture between Earnhill and Sacred Heart primaries in the Larkfield area of Greenock in Inverclyde, and the pupils live up to it.

The project originated when the heads of both schools attended an anti sectarian conference. Their interest was sparked by an announcement that Pounds 2,500 was available for an innovative project and their hard work has paid off with them clinching one of this year's education awards.

The first step was to set up a focus group of parents, pupils and staff to look at ways of taking the project forward, says Sally Peel, depute head of Sacred Heart.

The children worked together in circle time, describing what sectarianism meant to them. At that stage, it was quite a "narrow dialogue", largely restricted to football. But as her school was working to become a Unicef Rights Respecting School, the teachers led the focus towards religion to give them a better insight, she adds.

A steering group of P6 pupils was set up. One of their first actions was to hold an anti-sectarian conference, inviting three representatives from each primary school in Inverclyde and the special school nearby. They were assisted by Bruce Wilkinson, Uni-cef education officer in Scotland, and led discussions at mixed tables.

"They didn't want a lot of adults there and started with an ice-breaker, "quacks". That got them working together. It had a tremendous impact even just confidence-building," says Mrs Peel.

Janet Leicester, head of Earnhill , says the pupils from other schools gave them good feedback, but the responsibility of organisation and doing costings was also a very valuable experience.

Their next task was to organise a competition across Inverclyde (below) which they judged. Divided into categories, the infant school pupils had to design posters, the middle school pupils write a poem, and the P6-7 seniors submit a piece of writing. The theme was: "What is it like to be Muslim, Catholic and Protestant in Inverclyde?"

From the winning entries, they produced a booklet, inviting councillors and dignitaries, representatives from each school, and the winners to the launch held at James Watt College.

The impact has been power- ful on the pupils' motivation, say the schools' leaders. "It is A Curriculum for Excel-lence in action citizenship and enterprise, all the things you would want to do," says Mrs Leicester.

While there have been some tensions, largely football-related, there has never been any anti-sectarianism in either school. But the work on defining the baseline issues has raised awareness for the pupils, says Mrs Peel, even prompting some to challenge attitudes they encounter at home.

The teaching staff hasbeen given additional council funding to produce lesson plans which will act as resources for other schools.

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