Red Nose Day is back! – 15 March 2013

Want to plan a humdinger of a Red Nose Day? Leave it to your students, 

says John Duncan of Westhill Academy

Just days from the end of last Red Nose Day I couldn’t help thinking about the next one. What would my students come up with this time? ‘Gunge your students’ had gone down extremely well, especially with the teachers, and had raised three times the money of the teacher-gunging the previous Red Nose Day.

Some people think that running Red Nose Day is too much of a challenge – it’s time consuming and there are too many other demands on the school day. Our academy is testament to the fact that it isn’t and there aren’t, especially if you get your students to run it! In 2011 they ran a monster campaign, organised in their lunchtimes and raised a massive £13,000. Everyone had a fantastic time and no one missed out on their schoolwork. More than that, our students learnt and did things they might not have done in traditional lessons. They planned events, talked to local businesses to secure sponsorship and support and raised awareness of important issues. This really boosted their confidence and developed skills and experience that will be invaluable to them in later life, and will stand out on personal statements and CVs as they plan for university and beyond.

Just ten weeks before Red Nose Day the students start planning. We’ve found that starting any earlier can be counter-productive as interest and momentum wane. At the beginning of the spring term students are invited to Friday-lunchtime meetings. As Red Nose Day gets closer they spend a couple of lunchtimes a week organising the activities.

About 20 students sign up at the start, rising to around 60 as the campaign builds. Much of the organising is done by a core group of older students, with help and support from the younger ones. It’s encouraging to see the quieter students getting involved, those students who may not have much to do in their lunchtimes. The campaign gives them an opportunity to take part in something important and make a contribution, however small.

A month ahead of the day, the students launch the event with posters all around the academy. Throughout February they are busy planning and organising in their spare time – we never see a drop in the timetable.

Red Nose Day week kicks off with an assembly to raise awareness of what Red Nose Day is for, and why the academy is doing what they are doing. As with the other activities, the students run this themselves, using video clips and materials from Comic Relief’s website. It’s really important in motivating students to raise funds. When they see that the money they raise will make a difference to people’s lives they become more engaged and raise more money.

During Red Nose Day week the students hold a series of lunchtime events, for example five-a-side football, gunge, Wii events and lunchtime concerts. Throughout the week there is a focus on simple activities with small targets and small tasks. If every child raises £10, you’ll raise £10,000 in a school of our size.

As well as the smaller-scale activities, the students organise an event at our local hotel, which provides the venue and support for free. ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ was our last extravaganza. The students’ and teachers’ performances were excellent, especially the teachers’ rendition of Take That’s ‘Relight my Fire’. I think I can say we made it our own.

Everything leads up to the day itself. In 2011, in the last hour and a half of the school day, we had a funfair in the grounds with old-fashioned stalls and giant inflatables. Again the students did the negotiating, and generous local companies provided the inflatables free of charge. Everybody came to school in circus fancy dress and individual students did all kinds of things to raise money – sponsored runs, silences, dress-ups – and of course they bought Red Noses.

Which brings me right back to the beginning. What will my students come up with for the next Red Nose Day? Who knows?

But I do know that if they own it, they will run with it and make it a success. The benefits to them will be enormous and they will help change lives. And it won’t take over the school, nor take over teaching time.

And I know I can look forward to seeing them taking the lead and driving something through, if ever I needed reminding of just what they’re capable of and how amazing they are.

John Duncan, Westhill Academy, Aberdeenshire