Case Study 31, June 2002 Click for the next page!
Overcoming barriers to participation

This is the final Case Study of four during the 2001-2002 session on the theme of 'Overcoming Barriers to Participation'. One of the main ways that many schools seek to increase pupils' participation in school life is by developing a School Pupils' Council, or a School Council that has pupil and staff members. In this Case Study, Baldragon Academy gives a frank and self-critical account of how they tried, and are still trying, to ensure that their School Council truly is representational and participative in ways that are meaningful and motivational to all pupils. As most schools that have Councils can verify, this is not an easy task, nor one that, once achieved, can simply be left and expected to flourish! The most significant barriers to previous progress in Baldragon Academy were many pupils' perceptions of the Council as being both an elite activity and ineffective in achieving what pupils considered to be their priorities. Competing heavy demands on staff time also resulted in few staff giving their supportive commitment to its development.

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Contact for this Case Study
Baldragon Academy
Burn Street
Dundee DD3 0LB
Rector: George Laidlaw
PT Modern Studies: Alison Gore
Tel: 01382 436200
Fax: 01382 436202
Email: baldragon@dundeecity.gov.uk


Introduction

Baldragon Academy is situated on the north west periphery of Dundee, on the northern side of the ring road. The school, built in 1960, was formed in 1997 by the merger of two of the city secondary schools, Rockwell High School and Kirkton High School, on the former Kirkton site. The school roll is currently 705. It is a six-year comprehensive set in over 20 acres of its own grounds with exceptional views to the North. The school serves the Ardler, St Mary's, Downfield, Kirkton, Trottick and Mill of Mains areas, a mixture of both authority and privately owned housing. There are seven catchment area primary schools.

In recent years, there has been considerable upgrading of the building. The accommodation is in three main teaching blocks with a Central Administration suite, Guidance suite, Assembly Hall, Dining Hall and Library Resource Centre. The school is well equipped with updated Business Studies, Technology and Computing laboratories. Two of the three main blocks have been double-glazed and the exterior reclad and further refurbishment completed in Music, Home Economics and Chemistry. The school has provision for athletics and football and has tennis courts, swimming pool, gymnasium and a dance and fitness suite.

Background to existing ethos

The school has Community School status and strong local community links, seeing itself as 'a school at the heart of the community', involving itself in community activities wherever possible and maintaining close links with all associated primaries. A strong tradition of charity fund-raising exists and this is further strengthened through work experience and community placements. The school has strong and positive links with its School Board and the active Parent Teacher Association.

The staff offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities including dance, music, sport, specialist interest groups and we publish our own newspaper. Outside visits are encouraged such as regular school trips abroad and theatre visits. Considerable work has been done to promote a positive ethos in the school and to improve pupil cooperation and behaviour. Staff is committed to the school and provides a very impressive range of extra-curricular activities with a high level of participation. Much of this work is supported by a school sports co-ordinator.

A prefect system has been set up and senior pupils have been encouraged to take extra responsibilities such as paired learning and peer support. Each year, senior pupil volunteers receive peer support training and then operate as link mentors with the incoming S1. This involves them in attending Social Education classes, buddying and visiting registration classes. Seniors also attend a Youth Leadership Weekend following which they are involved in organising pupil events.

The New Community School status from 1999 and associated funding have enhanced existing opportunities for pupil participation. NCSs aim quite specifically to support pupils who, for a wide variety of reasons, may find successful participation in school and in the wider community more difficult.

History of Baldragon's pupil participation in decision-making

A Pupil Council has been in existence since 1995. At that point, the Pupil Council developed out of work done in Modern Studies in S1 on representation and participation. A logical extension of the work done on democracy and class elections was to put theory into practice. Senior Management agreed to give elected class representatives an opportunity to put forward pupil views and to be consulted on decisions that affected them.

Development was slow in the early days of the Pupil Council. Not many of the grand dreams materialised and there was a degree of disillusionment, certainly on the side of the pupils. They were listened to but not much happened. The status of the Pupil Council, however, was given a great boost at the time of the merger of the two schools that were to become Baldragon Academy. A great deal of effort was put into involving pupils in order to ease some of the inevitable tensions.

Pupil representatives from both schools met to discuss concerns and air views. Pupils were consulted, via the Pupil Council, on issues such as the new school tie and the school name. The Pupil Council also met with the Director of Education to discuss pupil concerns during the process. The profile of the Pupil Council was much higher for a period and those involved gained in self-confidence. However, other perennial issues were never really addressed - there was rarely a meeting when the state of the toilets or school dinner matters were not on the agenda! Changes were made, repairs carried out, but pupils still complained. The Pupil Council came to accept that some issues could not easily be resolved and that others were beyond their remit. However, the wider pupil community did not see this so easily and there was still a notion that the Pupil Council never got anything done. Two way communication was not effective.

There were also problems in identifying staff volunteers to support the Council. Meetings relied on staff and pupils giving up lunchtimes and there were frequent clashes with other extra-curricular activities. The motivated pupils tended to be the ones involved in everything from athletics to choir and the staff willing to volunteer were also the ones involved in other activities. The lack of visible successes and low participation rates led to deteriorating interest. Volunteer staff and pupils became scarcer and meetings tailed off for several years.

The New Council

The merger in 1997 meant that the school went through a period of significant change and much development is still on-going. These complement national and local policies that promote the development of citizenship, pupil participation, responsibility and ownership. It was clear that the Pupil Council could contribute to such developments and ethos. It was time for a fresh start. This was helped by the participation of one of the new House Captains who has a strong belief in pupil representation and who had been involved before with the Pupil Council.

After consultation between this House Captain, the Rector and the PT Modern Studies, a new format was drafted in the first term of the 2001-2002 session, staff was consulted and the Council was accorded official status within school policy. Positive changes involved:

scaling down the time commitment
making the membership of committees and the council more flexible
giving greater responsibility to pupils for the organisation
formalising arrangements on paper
ensuring that pupils, staff and parents were made aware of the new set up

 

 

Picture A: Pupil members of the School Council meet with the SMT on a regular basis to raise matters brought to their attention by class representatives.
Pupil participation is paramount within the context of group-work, the breakfast club (see Picture B below), the drop-in facility and the Citywide Pupil Council. Within Baldragon, we have specific extra-curricular groups focussing on media activity such as film making, music and drama, issue based group-work, school leavers' groups, young women's group and outdoor education groups. The breakfast club attracts between 30 and 50 young people on a daily basis and has presently over 130 registered users. The drop-in centre, 'The Edge', provides information, activities and direct access to an adult for young people as appropriate.
Baldragon NCS Integration Manager
Picture B: The School Breakfast Club has an appreciative membership of 130 registered users.
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