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Benefits of an extra pair of ears

WHEN Marjorie Wood became headteacher at St Jude and St Paul's in Islington in September 1997, the junior school had recently been put into special measures. At that time, the business of exclusions was a frequent and often violent matter.

"On my first day here, there were chairs flying across the classrooms. I issued 14 exclusions in the first term to show I was not prepared to put up with that kind of behaviour," she says.

The school had opted into the school-home liaison project, instigating a working partnership that has lasted ever since between the headteacher and Judy Schneider, an experienced former special needs teacher.

Ms Wood is in no doubt that having professional back-up on hand has been invaluable in getting the school back on its feet and in getting to the root of some of the basic difficulties faced by children and parents.

Ms Schneider has helped to avert many crises that often lead to exclusions by making herself available to listen to pupils and parents and putting them in touch with the most appropriate people to deal with their problems.

"Judy has been able to support me and back me up as problems have arisen. She is able to give time to parents and children and build up a rapport with them," says Ms Wood. "Parents come into the school with all kinds of difficulties that I simply couldn't take on board because of other pressures.

"I just couldn't split myself into enough pieces to do everything that was needed. I really don't think we wuld have come out of special measures if she hadn't been here."

She reports that the role of the liaison worker has shifted with the needs of the school, encompassing a wide range of troubleshooting - including counselling, esteem-building work, resolution of bullying cases and consultation with parents.

As the school has reached a new equilibrium, Ms Schneider has worked more on attendance and punctuality. Meanwhile, she has been steadily building up contacts and a growing network of professional agencies to deal with more specialised problems.

"I enjoy the multi-disciplinary aspects of the work and I've seen the enormous value of this," says Ms Schneider. "I find I'm able to arrange things, chase things up and get things done."

In the past two years, she explains, her role has involved everything from sorting out clothing allowances to arranging mentoring schemes for families with relationship problems or evendealing with employment and housing difficulties.

She adds: There is a clear connection between exclusions and a breakdown in communication. It's bound to make a difference if there's somebody around who's got time to listen."

The figures speak for themselves: the school has come out of special measures and reduced its previous stream of fixed-term exclusions to zero.

"Even if we did have exclusions now, I would be in a position to follow up and do what's needed to help with what has to be done next for that child," says Ms Schneider.

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