Youth team help pupils to xl

As the Education Minister calls for non-academic achievements to be recognised in a national qualifications framework, Su Clark looks at one experimental programme being adopted by Queensferry High in Edinburgh

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Back from her quick fag break, Katrina Cronin (pictured bottom left) - Crow to her mates and teachers - sits looking pensive. Her blonde hair is fiercely pulled back in a ponytail, her gold hoop earrings glint in the light. But despite her discomfort, she begins to chat freely, if a little hesitantly.

"Before I would never have dreamt that I would have stayed on at school. I would have left. I was that way in first and second year, I had lots of problems and I would have been chucked out. I was in trouble all the time," says Crow. At the time, she was identified as being shy, with low self-esteem and low confidence levels.

Now she sits calmly in the building she once couldn't wait to get out of, having come back willingly in autumn to begin S5. She is rarely absent and is never late. Over the next year she will do five Intermediates, and is toying with the idea of becoming a youth worker, having gained first-hand experience doing the job during her xl work placement. She is still involved with xl, supporting Claire and the other teachers for two periods a week at the school.

This transformation has led to a nomination for the Princes Trust In-School Achiever Award.

Crow's break came when Queensferry High launched its xl club in 2004, aimed at those young people who were underachieving, disengaged and not participating within school. Her name was high up the list. Over the previous year she had been struggling in class, misbehaving and highly disruptive.

"There was not a single day that Katrina would not be removed from a class for her behaviour," says David Wilson, the Prince's Trust xlerate with xl area co-ordinator for the south-east area.

There was a pattern of persistent lateness and absenteeism. She got involved in underage drinking and vandalism. But then at the end of her troubled S2, she was approached by Val Addison, principal teacher of the school's support base, who suggested she join xl.

"I thought it would be a bit of a skive," admits Crow, glancing up and shrugging frankly.

"It was different because you didn't have teachers telling you what to do all the time and you could sit and chat.

"But I didn't really have any friends then and I didn't get on with the others at first. I didn't really like it."

For the first year, Crow's challenging behaviour continued. Every day her name would be on 2nd yellow; it often went into red and she would be removed from the class. But then one day she decided she wasn't going to behave like that any more.

"I decided to change and start trying to get on better with people," she says. "I had been doing lots of team-working in the class and you had to complete things together. And I just started getting on better with the others and I had more respect for the teacher. I decided I wanted to go for my gold award."

She didn't look back. Her improved behaviour spread to her other classes; she stopped being late or absent and she started getting on with other pupils and teachers.

By the end of S4, Crow became one of only 26 from the 800 or so pupils doing xl to achieve gold.

"Crow has done remarkably well," says Mrs Macfarlane, who has obvious respect for the way this young woman has turned her life around.

"And she is still in school, which I would never have believed this time two years ago."

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