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United by youth's community spirit

Eight Scottish schools have won a share of pound;1 million in a community education scheme sponsored by Barclays Bank. Raymond Ross visits two of them to find out about their positive action citizenship projects

Enabling young people and enabling them to help others is the name of the game for a handful of Scottish secondary schools among the 102 across the United Kingdom who have been awarded a share of more than pound;1 million in cash, resources and professional support from the UK's largest single education sponsorship programme.

In March, eight Scottish schools - Glencryan special school in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, Firrhill High in Edinburgh, Alford Academy in Aberdeenshire, Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire, Lockerbie Academy in Dumfries and Galloway, St Mungo's High in Falkirk, Lochgelly High in Fife and Waid Academy in Fife - received Barclays New Futures awards to enable schoolchildren to learn through positive action in the school and community. The first two of those schools each were awarded pound;7,000 over two years, while the others received one-year pound;3,000 awards.

The New Futures scheme was launched by Barclays Bank in February 1995 as an eight-year, pound;8 million (pound;1m a year) sponsorship scheme of secondary school community projects that address aspects of citizenship education. Since then more than 1,200 schools across the UK have benefited and more than 69,000 young people have gained experience of active involvement in their communities and opportunities to develop key skills. It is run in collaboration with Community Service Volunteers. Winning schools receive pound;500, pound;3,000, pound;7,000 or pound;20,000 as well as practical guidance, professional support, teachers' materials and resource packs.

The award to Glencryan will be used to help develop an advocacy group for its pupils, aged three to 18, who all have learning difficulties. It will give a group of students the opportunity to meet after school to voice issues which are important to them and to play a part in decisions which will affect their lives.

At Firrhill High, students will provide peer support to two local schools, working with disabled students at Graysmill special school to enhance learning, particularly in art, drama and craft, design and technology, and at Hunter's Tryst Primary, where they will run an after-school maths activity involving teamwork and problem solving.

The Funky Blue Smurfs is the name given to the advocacy group at Glencryan. It involves 10 secondary age students supported by four senior pupils from nearby Cumbernauld High and St Maurice's High schools. They set their own agenda at monthly meetings, identifying activities they would like to do - art, drama, cooking, board games - and issues they want discussed andor role-played, such as relationships, disabled access in the community, friendships and bullying.

The group is facilitated as a partnership between North Lanarkshire Council's education and social work departments, along with the voluntary organisation Partners in Play.

"It's a North Lanarkshire pilot project in the first instance," says Glencryan's headteacher, Angela Moore. "We were approached by education and social work staff to set it up as a partnership approach designed to give children with disabilities the opportunity to have a voice.

"It's a unique project which fits with the school's social inclusion agenda, giving young people a real voice in the world so that they can become full members of the community," she says. "It reflects the spirit of where we want the school to go in terms of citizenship and advocacy."

The Funky Blue Smurfs may not be part of the school itself but they will play a central role in developing Glencryan's pupil council next session. "The Smurfs and the council will run side by side, but these pupils will have developed the necessary skills to help us develop the council. They will be able to help train other pupils," says Mrs Moore.

The New Futures award will enable the Smurfs to go out to other schools next session to talk about the benefits they feel they have gained from being part of it, explains acting depute head Dorothy Morgan. They plan to meet regularly over the summer to prepare for both this and a presentation they will make to local councillors in September. Some of the money may also be used to employ a drama specialist, "drama being helpful to such ends", but only if that is what the group decides, says Mrs Morgan.

"It's about us listening to them and empowering them," says Jeanette Hodge, the co-ordinator for Partners in Play. "It's about issues and concerns they have, which can touch on education, social issues, disability awareness and discrimination."

"We hope the project will be seen as a model not just for similar schools in our area but across Scotland," says Fiona Cameron, North Lanarkshire's children's rights officer. "It's about them expressing what they'd like to change about their schools and their communities."

Glencryan pupils can be very isolated at home because of the school's wide catchment area, says Mrs Morgan. "They don't have their school friends near them to socialise, so the Smurfs meetings are a big plus in their social lives."

The meetings start with games, which they play as equals with the mainstream pupils. Then they settle down to the issues at hand, using drama and discussion.

"They'll discuss anything, from why they can't wear earrings at school to the right to play in their own homes," says Mrs Morgan.

People - caring about them and making them happy - are a priority for the pupils, along with freedom to use school computers and, for the girls, playing football.

"The group is now integral to the school and their ideas are filtering through to personal and social education, enterprise education and the school council," says Mrs Morgan.

"It's a special blend of agencies coming together and young people coming together. They often express their feelings in small groups, in role-playing, because it offers a safe sharing."

Sharing is a key term for the Firrhill High New Futures project. "Using our own experience of peer support within Firrhill, we want to build on it and take it out into the community," says headteacher Pat Cairns. "We want our students to go out and mentor, to help develop numeracy and literacy skills, to work with the disabled students at Graysmill and for it to be a fun thing to do."

One of the seniors helping to pilot the scheme is headgirl Fiona Bathgate, who has a younger sister with special educational needs.

"Visiting Graysmill this session has made me more aware of disabilities and of the segregation we have in education and in society in general," she says. "I wanted to go to Graysmill, which my sister used to attend, because I wanted to learn as much as I could as well as helping the pupils there to learn and to help them have fun."

Fiona attends a weekly swimming club, helping the children in the water, as well as helping out at Graysmill's summer playscheme. "I've been given training in lifting, handling, feeding and drinking by Capability Scotland. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it," she says.

"I've been mentoring S2 mainstream pupils at Firrhill too, but children with disabilities give back differently. They are more outwardly affectionate and you also see just how much they get out of it. It helps you deal with different people.

"I'm going to Aberdeen University to do business studies but this kind of activity is something I know I'll continue to do."

Graysmill's headteacher, Ian Elfick, hopes the seniors coming to his school will experience and enjoy the different setting, "a setting that recognises the individual and affords the respect that every human being deserves".

He hopes it will give the mainstream pupils an insight into the realities of life for his pupils, aged three to 18, all of whom have severe physical handicaps and some of whom have learning difficulties too. It will also let the mainstream pupils see the school's specialists at work. "Who knows, it may inspire some to look at careers in physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech and language," he says.

"We are in the early stages but we're all hopeful it will work to everyone's mutual benefit.

"Some of our pupils may also be able to go to Firrhill, but you have to bear in mind that the more academically able of our pupils are already now in mainstream schools. Our pupils here have complex needs less appropriate to time at Firrhill.

"It's a link that has existed informally for years and we're keen to develop it as sensitively as we can as a two-way process."

The core advantage is linking the two schools "functionally", enabling closer social contact, he says. The additional resources from Barclays, which will allow rapid transport between the two schools, is "a good thing and something we'd hope is maintained and developed."

Firrhill's headboy, Allan Clarke, has also been involved in the pilot. He, too, is starting a business studies degree in October, at Edinburgh University, and is keen to pass on what has been learned before he leaves school.

"We're meeting with S5 pupils after the exams to discuss the project and share our experience with them. We want to get music and drama groups set up.

"It's really important, especially when you see what these pupils get out of it. It's certainly something I'll always remember."

Schools can apply for a Barclays New Futures entry pack throughout the year: application forms are available from September and the closing date is in December. For details see 020 7792 4949


Alford Academy, Aberdeenshire

In their storytelling project, students will be trained to gather personal recollections from older members of the community, using tape recording, video filming and note-taking. Together with senior citizens, the students will pass on these memories to an under-fives group in storytelling sessions.

Alloa Academy, Clackmannanshire

The project aims to restore a sense of pride and belonging among the local community, and at the same time raising self-esteem and literacy standards. Students will produce and publish big books of short stories, plays and poems associated with Clackmannanshire, while gaining key skills in research, communications and working with others.

Lockerbie Academy, Dumfries and Galloway

With a desperate shortage of areas to socialise in and around the school, students will use their award to construct bench seating for pupils to use during break times and for elderly relatives waiting at the local primary school, improving both school and local environments.

St Mungo's High School, Falkirk

This peer support project, involving a drop-in-centre, a paired reading scheme and sports coaching, aims to raise confidence and self-esteem in pupils starting secondary school. The S6 students will gain key skills in communication, problem solving and working with others while providing a friendly ear, helping to raise academic standards and promoting participation in school sports.

Lochgelly High School, Fife

This student-run project aims to enable other pupils to undertake extra-curricular courses and gain skills in the community. As well as getting a foundation in literacy and numeracy and gaining work experience, students will undertake courses in life skills, social skills, child care and parenting, first aid and art therapy.

Waid Academy, Fife

Students will organise a science afternoon at the school for each of its seven associated primaries. Working and socialising with the younger pupils, the students will enable them to use laboratory facilities unavailable in primaries and promote primary liaison with the academy.

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