Share Your Story

We would love to hear your stories from serving your local school. Please send your story to us through our contact form.

Tell us about how the project started, what has developed, how it is resourced and your insight into the keys to success.



Sticking it out for the one in ten

Part of the nature of schools work and SU groups is that you will see a lot of young people come and go, but with all the opportunities available to them these days, it can be difficult to find young people who are able to commit.

Gillian Orr has been part of the running of Kingussie High School SU group since 2000 and has seen it evolve in a variety of ways over time. In reflecting on the initial forming of the group, it was clear that starting from nothing provided a lot of challenges in encouraging attendance and inviting people in. When we have seen these groups or communities set up before, and witnessed them working really well, it can be hard to anticipate the difficulties, especially in the early stages when you are just starting out. However, a great way to encourage a group to grow naturally can be through using the connections and relationships already in play. When Gillian’s son started High School a few years later, it was a lot easier to gain numbers and commitment from young people, both because they knew Gillian, and because of their involvement with their primary SU group.

But, just as in any journey evolving a community and group, there are times and seasons where numbers were higher and other seasons where numbers were lower. Gillian recognised the importance of growing those who were involved and committed long term into leaders and helpers of the group itself. There are so many kids who come and go in an SU group, so it is crucial that we release those to be leaders using their skills and abilities, “for every one kid that sticks with it, there are 10 that haven’t, so it’s really good to see that one kid!”

This was reflected in the participation from one boy in particular who helped to shape and lead the SU group in new outreach opportunities within the school. This boy had been attending the group for many years, sometimes on his own, and wasn’t from a Christian family. The leaders of the SU group and this boy came up with a plan to reach out to more young people in the school through a drop-in where students could come and get a free milkshake and watch a NUA video. Opportunities like this can really allow young people who are committed to a group to grow in their faith and keep going with their involvement in a really positive way, and what a blessing it is to be able to witness that and be a part of that journey with them!

In this way, an important aspect of serving in schools is being aware of the individuals you are serving and supporting. Looking for the opportunities where you can release them to contribute more and allow them to be involved in the decisions for the group. In reflecting on the evolution of the SU group, Gillian mentioned that there are times and seasons for everything, sometimes the whole thing is about one child and at other times it can be really important for the kids who have been helping out. So perhaps the key point is recognising the times and seasons when you are serving a school, looking for who has the greatest need for the service, and taking the time and energy to build that up. Sticking it out for the one in their season of growth.

By Kathryn Thomson



God Always Has a Bigger Picture in Mind

It’s very easy to get discouraged when it seems like our current work isn’t going in the direction we were planning or hoping for. When SU groups are more difficult and there seems to be little that is actually growing, it could make sense to stop with your involvement or leadership in an area of your school. But maybe it’s important we stick around in the difficult times as well as the good times? 

Gordon McBirnie has worked for Craiglockhart Parish Church for a number of years, and during his time has witnessed many changes and challenges in the way that the church seeks to serve their local schools.

Though a lot of connections were established already, there have been different aspects that have evolved over the time that Gordon has been involved with both Firhill High School and Oxgangs Primary. With the latter, the arrival of a new Headteacher opened more doors for Chaplain members to teach RE lessons on a regular basis. This gave Craiglockhart Parish Church (and neighbouring churches) the opportunity to devise a specific RE curriculum that fit the standards and aims of the Curriculum of Excellence. Allowing them to create a programme that both enabled them to teach more regularly in schools and further meet the needs of the school itself. This is a great example of building on what has already been established over time and strengthening those existing relationships.

When asked what Gordon enjoyed most about his role in the schools, it’s clear that the experience of working with young people encourages and inspires him, “the keen-ness and maturity of children is so encouraging!” This experience clearly motivates him to do more and further change things for the young people when necessary. For example, in the last few years at Firhill High School it was decided that in addition to the SU group that was already running there would also be a Youth Alpha course started to create space for non-Christians to explore faith for themselves. This change proved to be really beneficial and has had a group of 9 or so regular students attending at points throughout the year. However, though the group has had a good response and encouraging numbers, Gordon suggested that they would probably join the two groups (SU and Youth Alpha) in the next academic year, as this seemed to be the way it was heading in terms of numbers and content. This discernment and readiness to change and adapt with the student’s interests and involvement is key to understanding that what we see right in front of us is not necessarily the whole picture: we have to be ready to move with the flow of the students we are serving.

Gordon speaks of the difficulties that can occur when the present involvement you have with a school is discouraging and doesn’t seem to be going according to your plan, but that the overall big picture is still being formed:  “…as we look back we can see how God has worked in the group and the kids”. So perhaps the important thing is to keep this perspective - that the picture we have right in from of us isn’t the whole, and we might not ever see the whole for ourselves. But being committed to serve your local community and to grow where you are planted is the most loving thing you can do for your school right now.

By Kathryn Thomson


Our Communities are our Schools

Over 30 years ago Steve Younger was appointed School Chaplain at Auchinraith Primary, and since then relationships have been built and opportunities given, so that he is now greeted as a friend of the school.

Three decades is a long time to stay engaged and current with any school these days, especially with the rate that staff teams alter. So what are the things that have allowed Steve to stay in this position as an adopted member of the staff team?

A Willingness to Serve

An approach to serve in whatever capacity is needed is key. In Steve’s reflections he recognised this willingness as a significant factor in building relationships and earning his place to continue to lead assemblies. It is clear that the relationships that have been built here are full of respect on both sides and have meant that the school have made space for Steve and his suggestions.

Building Relationships with the Children

One of the most beneficial experiences with an eye to building relationships with the children he was working with was serving at the school residentials every year. As with any time away with young people, this time allowed him to develop trusted relationships with young people in a variety of settings, and further building that relationship with the school as a whole and not just the staff who worked there.

Understanding the Curriculum of Excellence

With the most recent changes in curriculum in the Scottish education system, Steve started to adapt his assemblies to meet the needs that the Curriculum for Excellence required. This involved touching on things like wellbeing when leading assemblies, therefore making the content and purpose of the assemblies in-line with their targets. This also allowed the staff to build up trusted relationship with him as they worked with a good understanding of one another’s needs.

Understanding the Community

As Steve says, “If you are to be involved in the community, you need to be involved in the school”, and it is so clear that in current culture with the rise in technology and the always accessible internet, there are many distractions away from people and what is happening right in front of us. However, one thing that does not change is the need for schools. Understanding your community, and further being involved in that community requires you to be involved in the local schools as it is in these environments, where there is already a structure of community, that we can enter into and show love in powerful ways.

For further insights from Steve and his experiences as a school chaplain, his book Time for Reflection: A Guide to School Chaplaincy is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

by Kathryn Thomson


Is Serve Your Local School making an impact?

Serve Your Local School (SYLS) is a website which exists to:

  • Help churches to see the opportunities available to participate in the life of a school
  • Share good practice and stories of successful initiatives amongst churches
  • Provide information about resources and new initiatives

We at SYLS set ourselves the task of finding out if Scottish churches had been making use of SYLS, and if so how had they found it. A huge bit of research was undertaken to find some answers. 332 online surveys and 25 in-depth phone interviews later we had some answers to our wonderings!

So what did the online surveys show?

45% of respondents had heard of SYLS initiative before the survey and half of those had visited the website. An overwhelming majority of people who had visited it really liked what it had to offer.

People were honest in their feedback, which is exactly what we needed! SYLS needs updating, have more materials and be more widely promoted.

There’s probably no surprises in discovering that of those participating in their local school are invariably doing so in their local primary school by a ratio of 3:2. This ratio is also relevant to the amount of church leaders providing chaplaincy in primary to secondary schools.

This ratio is overcome though when finding out where in Scotland people are active in serving their school. Whether it be city, town, village or rural, people in the church are equally active! Happy days!

Almost 3/4 of respondents found the biggest barrier to their church serving their school is a “lack of people and everyone is busy”. Time. No shock there.

About 3/4 of respondents were from a Church of Scotland and 39% of these said their church employs a Children’s, Youth or Families Worker. In other church groups over half of respondents said their church has a Children’s, Youth or Families Worker. It just goes to show, that the church’s presence in local schools is tangible when there is a paid worker with a remit for them.

So what did the phone interviews show?

Every person interviewed had an inspiring story to share with other churches, and it was incredible that such a variety of wonderful activities are going on across Scotland - activities that are held in schools, playgrounds, churches, halls and out in the community. In some ways this is no surprise, but you can never get enough of this good stuff!

The activities ranged from church services together with pupils to running an after school club. But in all the activities and stories, God’s people and his church are showing the love of Jesus to the children and young people in their community!

What next?

We’ll keep you posted for the next stage along the SYLS journey and hopefully you will be part of it!!


Avonbridge: church and school go green!

Avonbridge United Reformed Church wished to develop a working partnership with the local primary school. This was worked out in a number of areas: elders have been involved in cookery classes for the children; some pupils helped create a raised garden at the front of the church building. The children also designed and painted a wonderful ‘mural’ style painting depicting the life of Jesus in four panels with words summing up what the story of Jesus means to them.

Throughout this time, we learned a number of lessons as a church. Firstly, it pays to do your research. You need to plan carefully, being clear what it is you wish to achieve. This requires the church congregation being fully on-board with the vision. Secondly, you need a clear agreement between the church and the school regarding expectations, for example in terms of physical labour or fund raising.

As no-one in our church had any children at the school, we found it best to work through contacts with the Parents Association, backed up with the chaplaincy work carried out by the minister. It is vital to meet with the Head Teacher early on to gain approval for the project. It is best to have some kind of proposal written down that can be presented, which would include what the finished project might look like, what the educational benefits to the pupils would be, how much involvement is expected from pupils and teachers, and a time-line.

Never stop listening. Make sure that communication is open and frequent, with all involved in the project; wider church members; school contacts and also the wider school community. Be flexible and willing to change the original idea in the light of suggestions. As we got to know the teachers we found them to be a great source of ideas on improvements to the scheme, and alternative approaches. But once the plan has been agreed by all stick to it!

We were greatly helped by Community Support at Tesco’s Supermarket. They provided some sponsorship (including prizes for the pest pupil participation). Don’t be afraid of asking around among the local businesses for some help. The school also applied for financial help from the local authority and won a prize in a competition for community involvement. Make sure of how much finance is available and don’t limit yourself to church funds alone. Indeed, such was the enthusiasm of those backing the Avonbridge project that the church had to find only a small proportion of the funds necessary. So never be afraid to ask!

If the project involves some hard physical work, try and get pupils involved who are “at risk”. And remember that there might be scope for the involvement of ‘Community Service Orders’ from the courts: a group of young offenders did sterling work in clearing away weeds and rubble.

Some may doubt the project at first, some may even object. However if you can articulate the idea, show people what you wish to achieve, get the backing of school and community, and get the ball rolling, you will be surprised at how things turn out in the end. We found it a most rewarding experience, including friendships made with school staff, parents and children. 

Clive McGrory

Avondbridge United Reformed Church    


Christians and Education – learning from an American perspective.

When Nicole Baker Fulgham founder and president of The American Expectations Project, a non-profit organisation that seeks to close the academic achievement gap in public schools, met one of her fellow faith-based public school advocates for coffee, he recounted a conversation he had with a friend who is a long-time elementary school principal in the Bronx.

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Easterhouse Baptist Church

In the late 1990’s the church minister would deliver school assemblies. A children’s worker was appointed to the church staff team and wondered what else the church could be doing to support the school. She spoke to the Head Teacher, offering to do some classroom work. This offer was taken up, and she became a regular face in the school. She then grew links with another local primary through contact with a school secretary.

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A Head Teacher's View

The Head Teacher had a link with a chaplain who took assemblies. A new minister started at the local church, and offered to help at the school. Schools are often at the heart of a community, and since a church can be another key place in the community it is helpful when the church is part of the bigger picture.

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Troon Churches

Some volunteers decided to meet as a ‘Pray for Schools’ group to pray for their local primary schools. People attended from different churches and a real sense of community developed.

The group wrote to local Head Teachers asking “What can we pray for?” Not all responded, but some did. Teachers started to get in touch to ask for prayer for particular situations or children (but without naming which child!), and the group heard back about prayers that had been answered.

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Blantyre Baptist Church

Around 25 years ago, the Baptist minister approached the Church of Scotland chaplain about taking an assembly, which was subsequently agreed with the Head Teacher. The assembly was a success and he was invited to come back and take other assemblies. He also became involved as a parent helper, and in an after school computer club. Through being a consistent presence in the school, the minister was able to build up trust and relationships, and was invited to take on the formal role of chaplain after the previous chaplain moved on.

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