Education: Learning for life, and life for learning

Children can get a lot out of community service, and a recent competition shows that they put a lot in, too.

Are young people more selfish than they used to be? Many adults think so. But there is at least some evidence to suggest that this unflattering picture is unfair. Recently, I was a judge in a competition organised by Community Service Volunteers and Barclays Bank. The Barclays New Futures competition offers prizes of either pounds 7,000 or pounds 3,000 to schools to develop projects that encourage students to learn through community service.

The belief underpinning the scheme is that it is just as important for pupils to acquire life skills such as organisation, social awareness and self-discipline as it is to know science and history. Equally, the promoters argue that academic skills such as communication, literacy and numeracy will improve if pupils are learning from activities as well as traditional lessons.

Schools have to submit their bids showing how their projects, which must all be run by young people, will help others and how they will contribute to learning. This year's array included plans to improve the environment, plans for older children to help younger ones with anything from maths to bullying, plans to help the old and disabled and inventive ways of harnessing the skills of disaffected pupils. Eventually, 83 schools were declared the winners. Below we give a brief account of some of the winning entries.

Beacon Community College,

Crowborough, East Sussex

Pupils will teach younger pupils from 10 neighbouring primary schools about the environment. The college is in a rural area where small primary schools tend to feel isolated. The school already has an "eco-schools" committee of students, teachers, parents and governors, which will manage the project and award Ecotist badges to pupils who take part. Pupils will make musical instruments from scrap, fashions from old clothes as well as studying pollution in science and doing surveys in maths. There will be an open exhibition at the end.

Denbigh High School,

Luton, Bedfordshire

A group of pupils from different racial groups will help at a Bangladeshi Youth Centre to build bridges between different racial communities. They will be trained and will offer new activities devised by themselves to those attending the centre. The school believes that the volunteers will learn to work in a team, to organise others and will improve their confidence.

Greenlands High School,

Blackpool

The school will invite 100 pupils from all Blackpool schools to form an orchestra and a promenade concert will be held next year. Five primary, two secondary and one special school are already involved. At present, the town has no schools orchestra. Each school will elect representatives who will have a vote on the project planning committee. They will report back to their schools and write items for the Blackpool Schools Orchestra newsletter, which will be sent to all the schools and to community groups.

Knutsford High School,

Knutsford, Cheshire

More than 2,500 pupils from the school and its six feeder primaries will create an outdoor maths trail, which will be open to everyone in the local community. The idea is to make maths more fun and to encourage parents to become involved with their child's education by using the trail with them. Students will have to think up ideas for the trail and will maintain it. Parents will help with planning and management.

Sanday Junior High School,

Sanday, Orkney

Money will be used to link three secondary schools on the Orkney islands in Scotland through IT. Pupils will collect information, write articles for, produce and distribute a community newspaper and a monthly wildlife magazine for the Shetland and Orkney islands and beyond. They will develop a Sanday Website called the Word of the Wild. There are 200 remote households on Sanday and the school hopes that the newspaper will improve links between them.

Queen Elizabeth Cambria School,

Camarthen, Wales

Different groups will offer a helping hand to the community. One will help in the lunch club for the mentally ill and will provide them with desserts each week. Another will help the old and disabled with their gardens. They will work closely with voluntary organisations such as MIND and Age Concern. "Our project will bring the young and the old together so that they can respect each others' views."

Pensnett School of Technology,

Brierley Hill, West Midlands

A partnership between those about to start school and those about to leave. Many rising fives starting school in the area are a long way behind their peers. Fifteen and 16-year-old pupils from the school will learn parenting skills by helping in nurseries at three neighbouring primary schools, by planning activities for under-threes and by preparing information packs for pre-nursery and nursery children with games and activities that will help them when they start school.

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