Galashiels Academy

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Visit to the Patrick Geddes Learning Festival Oct 2017

Students from Galashiels Academy were guests of honour at the second annual Patrick Geddes Learning Festival in Edinburgh last Thursday. Praised by Former First Minister Henry McLeish, who was chairing the Learning Festival as, “a credit to themselves and a great advert for Modern Scotland”, representatives from S2 classes as well as S6 students from the newly formed Galashiels Academy Active Citizenship Group were invited to share their experience of this year’s ‘Bridging the Gap’ Project. ‘Bridging the Gap’ is a collaborative initiative between the Social Subjects Faculty at Galashiels Academy and the participation charity PAS, which aims to engage young people in community decision making, active citizenship and planning. The posters and artwork that was produced by all second year students was displayed as part of the conference.

This is the second year of Galashiels Academy’s ‘Bridging the Gap’ project. S2 students work in groups in their Social Subjects classes to discuss and assess the quality of all aspects of Galashiels using the Scottish Government’s ‘Place Standard’. There was plenty of rich discussion, which S2 student Paige Gilhooley highlighted in her feedback to the conference; “Once we started talking it was good because everyone had lots of different opinions. One topic that my group talked was public transport- we said that the council keeps the buses and trains in good condition, meaning more people use them.”  Eilidh Scott, also in S2, shared with the learning festival delegates a common theme from all classes; “Lots of groups put identity and belonging as a strength. We have one big event called the Gala Day which involves many traditions likely mixing of the roses and crossing of the Tweed. Everyone gets involved for Gala Week, and it brings everyone together.” The project also encourages students to consider aspects of their place that could be improved upon and possible solutions. In his address to the conference, Henry McLeish highlighted the potential of the Galashiels Academy project; “A generational gap has been developing. Hopefully projects such as ‘Bridging the Gap’ move across Scotland to promote youth active citizenship.” This sentiment rings true with Alice Crawford, PTC of Social Subjects at Galashiels Academy who developed the project along with Petra Biberbach CEO of PAS. Alice Crawford was inspired by the Galashiels Academy vision statement that young people should have the opportunity to participate and add value to the wider community; “young people are a seldom heard group when it comes to community planning decisions that affect them now and will affect them in the future. We believe that encouraging the S2 classes to share opinions about their place is one way of emphasising the importance of citizenship and the positive participation role they can play in their communities.” Involving the S6 volunteers was also key to the success of class discussions, 18 S6 volunteers gave up their time to sit with the S2 groups and make sure that every voice was heard.  Alistair Robinson, Kerr Halls and Holly Nichol spoke to the Learning Festival on behalf of the S6 group about how fulfilling it was to work with the younger students; “We really enjoyed being part of the PAS project. It was a great opportunity to build on our leadership skills, as well as getting to know the S2s. We’re really proud of the work that the S2s completed.”

 During their time at the Learning Festival students also spent time speaking to delegates individually and made a really great impression on a number of attending MSPs and the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bruce Adamson, who presented the representatives with Young Placemaker Awards for their role in the project and took time out of the conference to chat with them after they had presented. Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson said: “The students from Galashiels Academy are a shining example of how young people can play an important role in decision-making, policy development and planning. Children and young people need to be valued as equal members of our communities in Scotland. Their views are often not sought, or simply ignored, yet they have the right to important public services like transport, education, healthcare, and recreation. They have a right to have a say in the decisions that affect them, and the pupils from Galashiels Academy showed us how this can be done positively and to great effect. It was exciting to see the use of digital technology in such an innovative way to demonstrate their views on their place – what works, what doesn’t work and what could change. It was also impressive to see the older students building their leadership and mentoring skills in supporting the younger students.”