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Borders. Teaching Valuable Global Citizens in Glasgow {its what I do…}

{I was invited to speak at the Confronting Inequalities! The Role of Citizenship Education conference, organised by NECE.}

The conference brought together academics and educationalists from across Europe, to discuss the issue of inequalities in the development of young people’s citizenship and political identity.

My workshop was about the work of WOSDEC, the NGO who work with teachers in the West of Scotland on the delivery of Citizen education for equality, “to shape an education system that empowers young people to act as Global Citizens, able and committed to shaping a just and sustainable future for all,” and about my practice – as an example of work that is going on in Glasgow.

My talk was about how I try to break down borders in my pedagogy, and how in doing so, the children can become empowered agents of change both in their own lives and in the world outside and I a few examples of what I do and how I do them in my class.  I want children to know that as one of the main adults in their lives that they are seen, heard and are important in my life, the school and society.  That’s where I start. The UN Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals are a thread through teaching and learning in my class, throughout my school day, week, month and year.  This is about some of what drives me – and a small snapshot of what I do.  I am not a remarkable teacher in Glasgow.  I am one of many teachers helping to empower the future.


{I wrote the short piece in the video above, based on the poverty and amazing children I have met in my job over the years.  Although fiction, these sorts of adverse childhood experiences are unfortunately, not uncommon}


My own early experience of borders in education came in Northern Ireland – I was educated in the North in state schools between 1970- 1981. Horrendous things happened in the conflict known as “The Troubles,” outside the confines of my school, yet none of them were addressed by teachers.

Paulo Friere’s work has influenced my work over the years – I was led to his work during my teacher training in Bath Spa college when a brilliantly enlightened lecturer mentioned him in one of her lectures. Breaking down the borders between teachers and learners in order to really understand the needs of the learners, really has been at the core of my pedagogy. The pictures below show three quotes from Friere that are huge influencers on my work.



When I was training, in the year 2000, the group Hefner had an album in the charts, one of the songs at the time stuck with me, and one line in particular,

The Teachers from School, they took us for fools, they never told us what to do.”

{Lyrics From Hefner song…}

{education as a separate entity...}

The song is a mish mash of themes, young love etc, but it is also about the destruction of working class areas in the UK in the 1980’s. The miners strike, the closure of pits, the industrial decimation of working class towns and cities, were not addressed by teachers. Schools stayed totally out of current affairs and issues actually impacting on young people. This resonated with me, because no teacher ever addressed what was going on outside, not far from were me and my friends sat in classrooms jumping through the tick boxes in what was the 1970’s Northern Irish State School’s curriculum. An example of this “education as a separate entity” to what was going on in real life, came when, as a fourth year at High School, another student and I were asked to paint Humpty Dumpty’s on glass windows of a local nursery school, when there was a boom outside, and the windows bubbled in towards us as we painted. We ran outside to see the mushroom cloud of a bomb curling into the sky. Afterwards, we, as a school community, never spoke about it. No teacher mentioned it.  Our town was bombed a few times… the street often resembled rows of uneven, broken teeth after a gloveless fight.

{Our town often looked like rows of teeth after a gloveless fight...}

The only time the troubles came into the school was a speech delivered by the head teacher, when an eleven year old pupil in our high school was killed in an IRA bomb left in the town. And that was in front of the media as they were in to film our memorial assembly. We had no guidance. Opinions were never asked, and counter opinions were never discussed. Northern Ireland was very political… people engaged in politics, but everyone was taught “their” politics by their community. There was nothing that united the communities, nothing that recognised all opinion as relevant, valuable and valid. Everyone stayed in their bubble – well before social media bubbles were a thing.

Of course, in the North of Ireland, there were visible borders everywhere – paving stones painted in the colours of one of the two tribes, flags, barbed wire, “peace lines,” army checkpoints, barriers to keep car bombs from town and city centres etc. And there were borders between people that might not be apparent to visitors. So when I came to Glasgow in 1998/9, (I had lived in Scotland from 1993),and worked in Community Education, I recognised borders straight away in the youth clubs I worked in (one was in the old building on the site my current school is on).

{Glasgow gangs…}

{Woman in a Bomb Blast – sculpture by Banbridge [my town] born artist, FE Mc William}

Children sat in groups in different parts of the gym hall. And from that I learned about the territoriality blighting Glasgow at the time. Glasgow City Council, and the Scottish Government have done a lot of amazing things to break this territorialism down through cross agency work, including in schools. Knife crime, once highest in Glasgow than anywhere else in Europe, is now amongst one of the lowest and children are no longer scared of travelling between “territories.”

This wasn’t the case when I first started teaching in the city. In fact, in my third year here, I taught a P7 class in a Govan school, and I was asked by the Head Teacher to explore the old 5-14 curriculum (as opposed to the present Curriculum for Excellence) provision for Citizenship Education. My idea of children being active citizens meant that I wanted to go beyond the then curriculum of teaching them facts about the parliaments, the local council, law and order etc. I wanted them to see they could make change. They could drive change, or they could speak truth to power. Remember, this was well before the rise of angry citizens on social media…

As a “visitor,” bussed in to Govan, I asked them about things they liked and disliked about Govan. The consensus was they hated the litter, the decay. They hated the lack of safe spaces for them to be. But by far the biggest gripe they all had was the closure of their swimming pool, which had been just behind the school. We discussed what they could do about it. We found out about the Council and how that worked. We found out how the then reasonably new Scottish Parliament worked, and we arranged a visit to Edinburgh to meet two MSP’s, Rosie Kane, and another MSP, who didn’t turn up because he “had other work to do” in his second job, and he sent an assistant instead. Rosie said she would bring up their swimming pool with people in power. They enjoyed Rosie’s company – as did parents who came along, as she spoke to them in ways they understood. They had had their first taste of speaking to someone who was in the media – someone with power, and it was a good experience – not frightening – and someone who spoke to them as equals.

The swimming pool went beyond being an issue that was “inconvenient.” There was a pool a couple of bus stops away, but the difficulty was it was in another area. Outside their territory. Across a border, that meant that some of them could be recognised by those whose territory it was and they could be hurt.

{the Spectacle as pedagogy…}

Guy Debord wrote about “The Spectacle.” Education was, and still can be, just that. Not that different from watching TV, movies, theatre. Not participatory. I wanted children to be immersed in their learning. Learning that which was relevant, to them. Using knowledge gained from discussion in the classroom – skills learned, to change their world, or to have relevance in their world.

They wanted the local MP, Mohammed Sarwar,to come to speak to them about the swimming pool, so we as a class discussed what we would want him to do, what we thought he could do, and what we thought he would do. We discussed how we would interact with him, and how we would ensure he understood us, and how we could ensure we understood him (basically by being confident to say to him, “Mr Sarwar, I didn’t quite understand what you mean, could you rephrase that in a different way?”) By the time he left our class, he was sweating and apologising for the swimming pool being closed and saying he would do his best to find out what was going to happen about local leisure provision. The children HAD been listened to. They had made themselves listened to.

{Leafy borders…}

I came to be a teacher later than most (I was 35). I found that the experience of many teachers was that of being inside a system all of their lives. They were taught in the system, went to university, and then were in the system as teachers. This perpetuates perhaps, old fashioned and at times, (though becoming rarer) damaging systems within schools. Some borders were built in to the relationship from the off. There are borders between teachers and pupils, that although teachers really do try their best to break down, it can be very difficult to understand children’s lives in areas of deprivation, for example, for someone who has never been outside a middle class area or outside a system that has been dominated by the middle class. I remember being in a school in Drumchapel and I was teaching reading to a small group of children who had behavioural and other difficulties. One boy asked me, “Mr Scott, where do you live?” I told him, “Bearsden.” “Ah,” he said. “That’s the place where my da’ says youse come from to teach us how to speak.”

{Wee John, pictured on the border between the Drumchapel and Bearsden, where male life expectancy varies massively depending on which side of the divide you come from… photo by Kirsty Mackay – from article in Guardian – HERE }

Where I live is one of the wealthiest areas in Scotland. Lots of teachers DO live there. It’s a desirable place to live – house prices there continued to rise even after the property crash, for example. The border between Bearsden and Drumchapel is an incredible experience. It really feels like a physical border. I cycle it every day. You go from leafy, almost village like big sand stone houses and large villas, through trees, and a winding road that becomes more and more littered by fly tippers, across a border painted in the road, surrounded by wire, into an area of deprivation. The few seconds it takes really is crossing a border. There are cameras on poles, watching the residents of the social housing, there are suddenly, “Sleeping policemen” on the roads – these are the kinds of barriers and border adornments that I was used to in Ireland crossing across the actual British / Irish border, or across “Peace Lines”, or security apparatus to keep towns and cities safe from bombers. And along with the physical border, comes the statistics of poverty – passing across that small border and life expectancy falls from one of the highest in Europe, to one of the lowest, a fall of around twenty years and a massive income gap. Drugs and alcohol related deaths, suicides (there is an almost 70% higher mortality rate for suicide in Glasgow than in Liverpool and Manchester, for example)The attainment gap between the most deprived areas of Scotland and the wealthiest is a priority in Scotland. One in three children children are classified as living in poverty at the moment, in Glasgow.  Poverty is THE reason for these awful statistics.


All children %

Most disadvantaged (bottom 20% SIMD) %

Least disadvantaged (top 20% SIMD) %

Gap (percentage points)

27-30 month review (Children showing no concerns across all domains)





Primary – Literacy* (P1, P4, P7 combined)





{The table shows the gap in literacy attainment in P1 (the first year in Primary School), P4 and P7 (the last year in Primary school) is a percentage gap of 21.4%. This is, of course, unacceptable.}

76% of the children I teach today live in the most deprived areas of Glasgow. And all around that area, there are interfaces – new houses built to look as if the scheme is gated, around the border of the huge areas of social housing. The children are under huge stresses outside school.  School should be a haven – – a place children know they are valued.  And one free of the competition that city life brings to their families (the work by Wilkinson and Picket – their studies The Spirit Level, and The Inner Level, shows that stress of competition and stress caused by inequality, has a massive impact on peoples mental health).

We talk as teachers of children selecting their learning outcomes. Global Citizenship, the Global Goals, and Children’s rights, are core to our curriculum, and speaking about these, and listening to children’s experiences around these, really helps teachers understand their children… and building on methodology based on an understanding of Friere, the teacher gets to know and respect the children in their class, and the children get to know their teacher. The Children become the source for their learning outcomes, if the barriers are broken down. Lives are shared. Respect runs two ways.






{above… The first six Global Goals – all 17 are a thread through what I do throughout the year… along with the UN Rights of the Child}

Jean Michel Basquiat has always been someone I have been interested in. When I was a teenager, I loved the New York punk/ post punk scene, and through that, I found out about the sixties and seventies New York art and music scene, including the Velvet Undergound and Warhol, and then in turn, the graffitti artists and black artists of the seventies and eighties. Basquiat was one of them. Perhaps the most prominent of the graffiti artists. He painted his love of music, his political activism and his lived experience of racism and resulting anti-racism and of addiction. There are many aspects of Basquiat’s life I can draw on in various discussions and lessons. In my classes we discuss Basquiat, and then the children paint or draw their own version of a Basquiat painting with them in the centre, and their interests, likes, loves, aspirations, language etc surrounding them as small doodles, words, patterns.

{Basquiat’s life and work helps me get to know my children…}

{share our lives.}

We also paint or draw where we feel safe, and where the border of our life outside school is – and where is “There,” “Them” and “Not Safe.” We discuss our lived experiences and our area. I introduce this with a walk through, using Google Street view, the area I grew up, where my friends and I played (it hasn’t changed much!) and where my borders were (without too much detail so I don’t influence their responses). We get to know their lived experiences through art, discussion, and creating short videos. From this, we explore the overlapping areas they all describe and throughout the year, build a view of the rest of Glasgow, Glasgow’s place in Scotland and then Scotland’s place in the world.

{The Children create “Basquiat” pictures, and include important parts of their lives…}


{They draw and describe where THEIR physical borders are – where they feel safe and where they don’t feel is their area…}

We also talk about Scotland’s wealth… children first place their name on a continuum between 1 – the most wealthiest to 195, the least. This year the results of that discussion were interesting – a big group thought Scotland was between the 3rd-7th most wealthy, most in the class thought we were somewhere in the middle, and one by thought we were the least wealthy because he “had never seen a Lamborghini…” Most of the children agreed that the richest country in the world, and the response to my question asking why they thought that was, “Most You-Tubers come from America, and they always have STUFF!” Those who thought we were one of the richest countries evidenced this with the fact we are in a big new school with an astroturf football pitch.

{How Wealthy is Scotland?}


{How poor is Scotland?}

{Class Conscience…}

Back in the late 1990’s, Bill Forsyth followed up his eighties film, Gregory’s Girl, with Gregory’s Two Girls. The film concentrated on Gregory, who had went from a working class boy, into teaching and the film was about his ranting his liberal views at people and trying to bring his leftish liberal views into school. At one point, one of the women in his life is in his flat and commenting on his pile of left liberal magazines, she says, “Ah, the last luxury of the middle classes – a conscience.”

For those living in circumstances beyond their ability and/or resources to change, those living financially precarious lives are dealt a double injury – they may want to be ethical, their conscience may be pricked by the Climate change demonstrators, plastic pollution highlighted on the media etc, but they are denied that dignity through having to budget and through having to survive on a budget that is outside the ken of the middle classes who teach, speak, and paint placards demanding change.


{Sustainable Development Goals 8 – 17 – Read them in detail HERE}

{Last Year…}

On the first day of the new term last year, by the end of the day, my bin was overflowing with single use plastic bottles. A reusable bottle is a large chunk out of low household incomes that are worked out to the penny. When someone is trying to budget water in to their child’s school day, if they were to buy a reusable bottle that then gets lost, this is a massive dent in their budget. It is financially easier to buy a six pack of water in single use plastic bottles, for a pound or so a week. Poorer families are denied the dignity of being ethical. There is a double injury to that family, that child. They want to be good, ethical, and if I had have drawn attention to the fact that these bottles were part of a massive societal problem and told them they were banned, I would be telling them off for not being able to afford to be ethical. So as a class we discussed what we should do and as a class, we found out what happened to our plastic bottles and I bought reusable cups.

The children decided to save up the single use bottles all year, and present these to the school to show that we really need plastic recycling. This then led to us finding out about the Sir David Attenborough progamme, “Blue Planet,” And through BBC Newsround and the children’s newspaper, “First News” which I buy for the class, about Greta Thunberg, who really struck a chord with them when she spoke at COP24. One girl from the class, who lives with a family member who is autistic came in the day after we watched Thunberg’s speech and told us that she’d found out Greta was autistic. This girl then researched all she could about what Thunberg was doing, and gave us updates and shared with us news about school strikes. The children then wanted to organise a school strike, inspired by Thunberg’s strikes in Sweden. We couldn’t cross that budgetry border that would have allowed us to join the main Glasgow strike, so organised a demonstration around the school and around local streets, with them parading placards they had designed and shouting, “We want climate action, when do we want it NOW!”

We videoed this, and posted it and pictures on our class twitter. The local press and local councillor saw this and through this, we were invited to Glasgow City Chambers, where the children told Heads of Council Departments about their worries about single use plastic that is given out in their school dinners, about the fact we don’t have plastic recycling and about worries relating to traffic pollution. This led to their words being used during a Climate Emergency motion debate in Glasgow City Council, and then First News asking for a report on the children’s actions (which two children in the class wrote), the local press running a double colour spread on their actions and the council then providing facilities for plastic recycling in the school. By this time, the children had collected nearly 700 single use plastic bottles which were all recycled. It was a hugely symbolic moment when they all carried the bottles out of the classroom and deposited them into the new recycling bins they had demanded. All of year’s learning – this ACTIVE learning, and participating in the learning they had asked for through their interest in what was going on in the world around them, was shared with the whole school in an assembly.

The children from last years class wanted this work to continue this year, so we set up a meeting with the councillor again, and along with this years class, asked him to look into a list of concerns they had. He has promised to come back before Christmas with what he has managed to do/ find out. The children then organised a bigger school strike early this school year, with half of the school striking and walking around the local area. And all of this started with an overflowing bin!

Last year the children also learned about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks (informed by a Dr Who episode!), Malala Yousafzai (informed by a video supplied by WOSDEC) and Nelson Mandela. At the end of one lesson, one child said that he had noticed that none of the people who helped bring about great changes they learn about, came from Scotland. At the same time we were doing this, we were sent a comic book (I run a comic club and comic creators sometimes send books), called, “We Shall Fight Until We Win, A Century of Pioneering Political Women – The Graphic Anthology.” The book covers the lives and activism of various women who changed and influenced History, who made a difference, like Emmeline Pankhurst, Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh, Betty Boothroyd and others. Amongst the names were “The Glasgow Girls,” who in the 2000’s managed to pull together demonstrations against detaining people and dawn raids on families, sometimes in the middle of the night by the UK Border Agency. They created a collective in Drumchapel High – just up the road from my school – that refused to allow the deportation of their friend. They helped set up a network in Glasgow that meant that when the UK Border Agency turned up at houses to raid and deport families, a call went out across text and social networks and students and activists stopped the agency from taking the families. Their work meant that the law was changed in 2010. I knew one of the girls still lived locally, so I invited her, Roza Salih, to the school to talk to my class and other classes. Roza spoke about what her and her friends had done and how they had helped stop the deportations, and also about her own background coming from Syria, the situation of the Kurds etc, which for the Syrian children in our school was so inspirational.

{From Rosa to Roza…}

Roza’s story showed the children that heroes can also be school children. They can come from their area. Inside their borders. And they can move outside their borders. Making a difference can be from them.

And they were able to realise by the end of the year that actually, all of their work in highlighting the issues of pollution around their own area, and in starting actions that are still changing things in their school and beyond, had turned THEM into agents of change in theirs and others lives.

{Below – Agents of change…}



By Neil Scott

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