Developing student leaders at Calderglen High School

Key features

  • Student leadership
  • School transformation
  • Progressive and flexible approach

Although having an impact on student leadership in the school was part of Calderglen High School’s original proposal, when it came about it was not by design. Fortunately, the flexible and responsive approach to Learning Away adopted by the school allowed them to make the most of it. From then on things have really taken off, as this teacher in the school makes clear:

“Initially we focussed our leadership ideas on our 5th and 6th form students first, but we’re now doing it in the 3rd year. We’ve introduced the Sports Leader Award for example. So we have a much greater cohort of kids who have been involved (in leadership) from a young age.”

In this short film, Tony McDaid, former headteacher at the school, sets the scene …

Using Learning Away residentials to develop young leaders at Calderglen High School from LearningAway on Vimeo.

The story began in the Drama Department when, after a residential weekend with a vertical age structure of students studying or interested in studying drama, the young people returned fired up to put the subject back on the map in the school. They formed and led a drama club for younger students and relaunched the moribund school play. The impact in the department was a significant upturn in recruitment to the subject as an exam course. Its impact is described by one S6 student:

“Drama has opened up so many opportunities within and around the school such as film projects I’ve done, which I took to the Scottish Parliament and got an education award, and my internship with the local SNP candidate.”

As described in another case study, the PE Department quickly followed their lead. This time students, now in S4, who had enjoyed the PE masterclass in S3, wanted more and took up some empty spaces in the next S3 trip. Instead of simply experiencing the intensive coaching again, the students found themselves assisting in the coaching of the S3 students and using leadership skills during the informal evening time. This set a tradition for S4 and S5 students who also started coaching on after-school clubs and in the feeder primary school PE lessons. New clubs were also started by the students to cater for new interests.

“Going in to P7 classes and helping, I was able to get a girl from there to come up to club level who’s probably going to go up to district level. She’s such a good player and if I wasn’t there she would never have gone up to club level.”

The relationships formed with the primary pupils came to the fore again when they made the transition to the high school and sort out the students who had coached them for reassurance and support.

“It gives them (P7 primary pupils) a friend that’s not their buddy that they can just come up and talk to. There’s like a year of friendship before they come here and they’re in a situation where they don’t know anyone.”

Of course, it was no surprise that these two groups of drama and PE students featured highly in the appointment of prefects for the school. What’s more the school was selected to take part in the London 2012 Olympics, offering activities and games in the Olympic Park for visitors; a very different kind of residential experience! In return this group found themselves in the stadium on super Saturday.

The PE students, now in the upper school and buoyed up by their London experience, undertook to plan, raise funds and lead a trip to a partner school in South Africa to bring them sports equipment and much needed coaching and leadership skills for their staff and students. This placed a challenging residential at the centre of their educational lives.

Many other leadership actions have taken place; during the Scottish referendum and the recent general election, as volunteers during the Commonwealth Games held in Scotland, in local primary schools, on community projects, volunteering on P7, S1 and S2 residentials and as part of everyday school life.

Staff have responded by facilitating the opportunities for the new initiatives suggested by the students and by offering more residentials with leadership development including sailing with the Ocean Youth Trust and taking part in the John Muir Award. In this school student leadership really is integrated into the residentials and into the life of the school and the wider community.