Mothers are taking newborn babies into schools as part of a scheme being launched nationwide to help cut aggressive behaviour among pupils, including teenage boys.
It is based on the Roots of Empathy scheme running in 1,579 schools across Canada, which is reported to have helped children's social and emotional knowledge and decreased aggression. The programme has expanded to Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Two years ago, Liverpool City Council visited Canada to see the scheme and later set up a similar programme designed by The Learning Partnership, a community interest company called Baby Matterz. The scheme, which runs monthly question-and-answer sessions with a mother and her baby, has dramatically improved pupils' behaviour, teachers claim.
The success of the scheme in deprived schools in Liverpool has led The Learning Partnership to launch it to primary and secondary schools in England and Wales.
De La Salle Humanities College in Liverpool was one of the first to pilot the scheme. Paula Howard, who teaches at the school for 11- to 18-year-old boys, said: "The impact of the Baby Matterz initiative has been remarkable. We have found a huge improvement in pupils' behaviour and speaking and listening skills. One autistic child used to talk like a four-year-old. Since the scheme, his speech has improved and he uses longer, more structured sentences."
Studies of the initiative have shown that pupils become attentive during sessions and more switched on to the classroom situation.
"They each take turns to ask a question, rather than talking over one another", says Kathy Connor, who leads the initiative at Fazakerley Primary in Liverpool. "Having a baby in the room really changes their behaviour. They show an unfound respect for each other and a greater respect for the baby."
One mother visiting the school, first when she was pregnant and now with her baby, said: "The children find Rebecca amazing and can appreciate the gradual growth of a baby. They are really thrilled because she is now eating solids."
While the scheme tackles the curriculum, it also touches on more sensitive subjects. One boy at Fazakerley Primary who had a baby brother at home was negative towards the visiting baby. But as the programme progressed, his jealousy disappeared. "As he got to know the baby, he started to talk about his own experiences and became a lot more co-operative in lessons," said Ms Connor.
Arthur O'Malley, a child psychiatrist, said he was not surprised the scheme had been so well received. "Pupils get to talk and see the infant grow and develop, which boosts the education of normal development. Learning through experience is by far the best way to learn."
Aulden Dunipace, managing director of The Learning Partnership, said: "The aim is to inspire all kids in all schools into learning. The current education system is too rigorous and structured. There needs to be a catalyst that gets the children excited about education. To have a newborn baby come in and to witness its growth is something out of the ordinary. It creates that missing spark to learning."