Page last updated at 18:18 GMT, Monday, 6 February 2006

Laptop link-up: Respect in school

BBC News hosted a laptop link-up on Tuesday 7 February between a school in Northampton, UK and a school in Zossen, Germany, on the issue of respect.

A lack of respect has been hailed by the UK government as the root of many of today's social ills - but what is respect, and do young people think they give and get it?

Twelve teenagers debate the topic by e-mail, as part of a week-long series, which is focusing on Northampton.

By Paula Dear
BBC News, in Northampton, UK

Unity College, Northampton
Nearly 50 languages are spoken at the school

Learning to get along together is a core theme in the daily lives of the 1,200 pupils of Unity College, Northampton.

This is not least because it is one the most culturally and socially mixed schools in the county, says head teacher Sharon Goode.

It has a wide range of students from many different ethnic minorities and faith groups, and there are a staggering 47 languages spoken among the school's population.

It also takes pupils from a mix of areas, some of which are the most disadvantaged wards in the town, says Mrs Goode.

Unity, a Church of England (C of E) comprehensive school for 11 to 18 year olds, opened in September 2004 after being created from former upper and middle schools during a major restructuring of the borough's education system.

Everyone is certainly having to "muck in" at the moment, in more ways than one.

The upheaval caused by their expansion means there is still building work being done on the site - a mixture of old and new buildings - and mud is unavoidably being tramped through everything.

There are always tensions, differences of opinions and prejudices that have to be unpicked
Sharon Goode,
Head teacher

As Mrs Goode walks through the playground at break time she picks up litter from muddy puddles, while explaining that although most kids proclaim they respect their peers and surroundings, they don't always "walk the walk".

Becoming a C of E college was a difficult transition for Unity, because many families who ended up in the new school had not initially chosen a faith school for their child.

"It's all about getting along, that's the crux of the respect agenda," says Mrs Goode. "Boys and girls, ethnic minorities, different faiths, those with parents at home and those who are in care.

"That's why the college is so special, you rarely get the full spectrum of society like this.

"When it works it is the most rewarding aspect of education, but clearly there are always tensions, differences of opinions and prejudices that have to be unpicked."

'Parents have changed'

When the school opened it was a "battle", she says, to achieve a sense of having common values, but they have persisted daily to keep respect at the top of their own agenda, with daily assemblies and "enrichment" classes.

Mrs Goode, who has taught for 21 years, says there have been changes in the way children - and parents - behave since she embarked on her career.

"The issue is that their misbehaviour is much more public than it used to be. We have given children the ability and right to speak out, but they often don't have the maturity to temper it to their audience."

What has also changed is that parents used to listen more to the school's side of the story when things went wrong - any disagreements between home and school were discussed "behind closed doors," she says.

"Now parents come in and say 'you can't do this and you can't do that', and they bring their children with them."

"A lot of the values around respect are learned. It's about being able to place yourself in someone else's shoes."

Map showing Northampton and Zossen

By Tim Weber
BBC News in Zossen, Eastern Germany

Zossen's Geschwister-Scholl-Schule is not a pretty school, exuding all the charm a typical East German prefab building constructed during Communist rule can muster.

Geschwister-Scholl-Schule, Zossen
The school is named after two students executed in 1943 for fighting the Nazis

Once inside, though, it is clear the school is trying hard, with the help of the regional government, which recently invested millions of euros.

As lessons end in the afternoon, dozens of kids mope around, sporting the uniforms of Germany's hip-hop generation - baseball caps and hoodies, or Mohican haircuts and combat boots.

But there is no graffiti on the walls, the classroom furniture is immaculate, and the hallways are adorned with beautiful paintings created by students.

Some 800 pupils attend this comprehensive school, which caters for six year olds attending primary school all the way up to 18 and 19 year olds working hard on their Abitur - or A-levels.

'Good to teach in'

There is no racism at the school, not least because the school is nearly 100% white and German.

A few children have parents from Sudan, Turkey and Thailand but there are no tensions, says Anke Hansch, one of Geschwister-Scholl's 70 teachers.

Only the "Russian Germans" - singled out by their accent and experience - are keeping a bit to themselves. They are the children of German families who lived in Russia for generations but are now returning to the fatherland.

Teacher Anke Hansch
Teacher Anke Hansch: "The students are eager to learn"

"Overall this is a good school to teach in, the children want to learn," says Mrs Hansch.

The school is in high demand; parents are eager to send their children here, even if it means a long commute. Some students travel more than one hour each way - by train and by bus - to come here.

And even though unemployment in Zossen is running at 11.9%, that's well below the East German average of more than 18%.

But it's the long commute, among other things, that brings out some of the underlying tensions, says Uta Hinze, a social worker attached to the school.

"The buses and trains are packed, it's very loud, very stressful, and there are some bullies who are nicking school bags and push others around," she says.

'Patchwork families'

"Some of the children are afraid of the commute," reports Ms Hinze.

She blames the collapse of traditional families for the problems.

"There are more and more children living in patchwork families: the parents are divorced or separated, there is a new partner sharing the home, there may be half-sisters and brothers, or the partner's children.

"That's when the problems start," says Ms Hinze, "it's only some of these children, but they can get aggressive, bully weaker children, refuse to learn."

Overall though, she says, Geschwister-Scholl is a great school - especially compared with some of the tougher schools in nearby Berlin.

Ms Hinze's biggest worry: "We try to teach the children to be individuals, but if they don't fit in, if they are different, chances are that other students will diss them."


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