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Disaffection with school has been rife for decades, Brian Boyd, the Strathclyde University researcher, said last week at the launch of the evaluation report on the New Directions initiative in Paisley.

Dr Boyd, co-author with Jim Doherty of the report on the Renfrewshire Council and Reid Kerr College project on tackling disaffection among 15-year-olds, said that compulsory education was hardly more than two generations old but some young people had always found school difficult.

All advanced industrial nations face the same problems, he said. "What we have to realise is that if they are old problems then the old solutions are probably not going to work and there probably won't be single solutions."

Dr Boyd said that the Scottish Executive's document Better Behaviour, Better Learning was mistitled. It should have placed learning first.

Students would improve their behaviour if they could learn in appropriate ways and New Directions was a successful way of addressing disaffection.

The project has been running for two and a half years and clearly shows that young people who presented a challenge can modify their behaviour and make significant progress (page one).

"There is a sense in which to modify behaviour you may need to modify the surroundings and modify the contexts. But there is a value system here and it is that all young people have potential. You can't write people off and everyone can make up lost ground," Dr Boyd said. He praised the collaborative approach of Renfrewshire and the college, which fostered team working across the disciplines.

The report - Counting us back in . . . A socially inclusive and partnership approach to tackling school disaffection and underachievement - says that students themselves are the best judges of the project's success, and the proof is improved attendance, punctu-ality and learning outcomes. The number of serious incidents has been sharply reduced.

Before coming to New Directions, attendance for the group averaged 49 per cent. After enrolment, it rose to 89 per cent. The "dramatic nature of these figures" has cut overall exclusion rates.

Counting us back in . . . A socially inclusive and partnership approach to tackling school disaffection and underachievement. By Jim Doherty and Brian Boyd of Strathclyde University.

Talking points

* "I hated French and loved typing. But I was made to do French and never got no typing."

* "I was told it wasn't like school - no uniforms, bells and things like that. I could pick my subjects and change them if it didn't work."

* "They said this was my last chance. I wanted to try college. My father said I wouldn't get another chance like it."

* "They said I had learning difficulties but I still learnt nothing. I just got fed up."

* "I've told my wee brother if he came here he would be OK. But the school says he isn't bad enough."

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