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Young citizens

In the first of a new series on how schools are promoting citizenship, Alan Combes talks to Neil Primrose, deputy headteacher of Norlington School, east London, about the school's "Getting the arches" project.

The SCHOOL

It's an 11-16 boys' school in the Waltham Forest area - there are about 600 pupils. Our GCSE results are good for such a small school and are often the best for boys in the borough or even in East London. Our philosophy is that pupils and teachers are equal in importance and respect. For example, staff don't push to the front of the dinner queue, and pupils are involved in theday-to-day running of the school.

HOW DID YOUR CITIZENSHIP PROJECT GET STARTED?

I was inspired by a talk given at my church by Neil Jameson, the leader of TELCo, a community organisation which teaches the empowerment of local citizens. TELCo sent me to Texas for a week's training in community organisation. I took the message back into school, where a TELCo group grew quickly, organising to tackle the issue of our tiny play area. We have only 1,940 square metres, just 3.2 square metres per pupil. The LEA accepted our need for an extra 1,400 square metres, and the land was available underneath some railway arches next to the school. But in 12 years of asking, the council had not put up the money.

HOW DID THEY PREPARE FOR THE PROJECT?Between six and 12 representatives from all years attend TELCo strategy meetings in East London. They go to citizenship training forums with staff to learn about how to access power and structure meetings. They've been to residential courses at places like the Trades Union Congress centre in Crouch End and the Royal Holloway Hospital. They have studied Greek philosophy, learned active listening through role play and had training in spotting leadership potential. The pupils feel immensely valued and come back to tell others about what they've done. More young people want to go than we have places.

SO WHAT DID THE PUPILS DO?

A group of about 30 pupils meets weekly in school, under the leadership of senior boys they elect. They develop strategy on local issues, not only "The Arches". In preparing their case, they have sent letters to local papers, done surveys of the local environment and lobbied local councillors (just before the localelections) with great effect.

HAVE THERE BEEN ANY AREAS OF CONCERN?

Anger and frustration sometimes has to be faced on the TELCo courses, but that's inevitable when dealing with real issues.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE RESULTS OF YOUR PROJECT?

Recently the LEA announced that it had the money to purchase the arches. There are five arches, one for each year, and all should be complete by the summerof 1999.

ANY OTHER GAINS?

I can't say our success is directly attributable to the pupils, but the pressure they brought to bear has been so significant. The increase in their self-esteem and confidence has been remarkable. The skills they have developed will serve them throughout their lives.

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