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The Specials - a Student Force for the Environment?

Active citizenship outdoors with special school students, and mainstream partners

CSV hopes that special schools can be encouraged to see themselves as the rich resource they are in the active citizenship arena.

This set of case studies features environment related activity with four special schools and the mainstream partners of two of them. Five were Barclays New Futures (BNF) award winners and well known to the scheme's South West Adviser who co-ordinated and edited this writing. The sixth school was the special school partner of one of the award holders.

children diggingAll six used the outdoor environment in differing ways - two sensory gardens, the manufacture of concrete garden artefacts, landscaping services, community composting, an environmental hit squad and regular Dartmoor activity residentials.

The Barclays New Futures scheme arose in 1995 as a direct response to the concerns about the employability of young people as they left formal education. In the largest education sponsorship deal of the decade, in partnership with Community Service Volunteers, Barclays gives 1M per year to schools in the form of cash, advisory support, student conferences and relevant literature. Citizenship, as a subject, has arrived 8 years later. Consequently the enormous database held by the scheme on all 700 projects provides examples of active citizenship with every type of student between the ages of 11 and 19. A recent research programme by the University of the West of England verifies claims made for the host of benefits to all concerned where levels of student management are high.

child plantingThe great majority of extra curricular programming and work for other awards such as ASDAN, Trident, Duke of Edinburgh, Youth Action and others will fit the bill for active citizenship in mainstream schools.

Lively community projects can help schools gain special status - eg Healthy School, Dyslexia Friendly School etc with many of the requirements overlapping so that double and even treble benefits can arise from a single project.

Community partnerships and the provision of in-school services by students already create opportunities for students to exercise responsibility up to management level. Record keeping, evaluation and reflection which encourage the student to identify and label new learning are the key components of quality work, feeding also into ROA's, course work, award schemes and key skills. Community partners with common interests bring time, equipment, other key contacts and funding ideas.

There is much other activity in schools which could be tweaked into quality active citizenship. Some schools are experimenting with Time Banks, a system for trading time and effort in helping each other as an equal currency ie your time is worth the same as mine. Could this prove to be a new source of extra help at crucial times in the life of projects? It certainly provides a new angle on giving time - ie as a two way benefit, which avoids the "charity" tag.

These accounts and the notes on best practice are designed to help other schools achieve the standards and recognition their active citizenship education deserves.

As this project demonstrates, special schools have a vital contribution to make, not only in respect of their own students' learning but also in providing a challenging and exciting opportunity for mainstream students to learn alongside them.

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