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'We all have a contribution to make'

Raymond Ross visits Carrick Academy and a cluster of primary and special schools to see how personal and civic values education affects a community

Values-based education is high on the agenda of both Craigpark and South Park special schools in Ayr, which share one campus and cater for three- to 19-year-olds with severe and complex support needs.

The schools often work in partnership on social and community projects, such as Soup for Sudan, a community lunch which raised money for Oxfam, raising money to buy a cow for a Ugandan village, sponsoring a Third World child through World Vision, running a bingo session to raise funds for a special school in Greece and raising money for the Malcolm Sergeant Home in Prestwick.

South Park pupils also tend a sensory garden for the Craigpark pupils.

"Our children have enormous gifts and it's about giving them the opportunities to demonstrate this," says South Park headteacher Sandra Donnelly. "Yes, we've difficulties, handicapping conditions, but we can take part in the community."

Craigpark's headteacher, Lorraine Stoddart, says community involvement has made both sets of pupils more confident over the past year. "The children move around the school with more confidence. People see what they've done and they're proud to be involved."

Residential stays with mainstream pupils at Dolphin House, the outdoor educational base at Culzean Country Park, and occasional excursions into mainstream schools to do specialist subjects, such as art, also boost pupils' confidence.

"The four-day stay at Dolphin House was very successful and our pupils made lots of new friends. They got huge cheers when they received their Duke of Edinburgh Achievers Awards," says Mrs Donnelly.

"One pupil who went into a mainstream school to do art has extreme complex needs and one-to-one support from a member of our staff. She is now known in the community and mainstream kids stop to speak to her all the time.

"That's what we want, our pupils recognised and valued in the community, because they and their families can too often be isolated," says Mrs Donnelly.

Pupils also do work placements, which build community links and boost their confidence enormously.

Every Tuesday, South Park pupils run a community cafe which they have named Cafe Mardi, because they are learning French and love it.

"We took them to Paris, which was the first time many of them had been on a plane. They were so proud of being able to say 'Hello', 'Thank you', 'Monsieur' and 'Madame' in Paris that when they came back they changed the name Tuesday Cafe to Cafe Mardi," says Mrs Donnelly.

"We need to open up opportunities in the community and establish more links with mainstream schools, which means we have to look at using things like personal communication passports (which tell others what the pupil's individual strengths, difficulties, likes and needs are), picture communication symbols (like Boardmaker), and PECS, the picture exchange communication system."

"The hub of the matter is that people need to accept that everyone in society has a contribution to make. It's about acceptance."

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