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Catch 'em young

How many pupils were permanently excluded from school in Rhondda Cynon Taf last year? One. And the year before? Two. Two years earlier, the figure was 17. Which just goes to show how effective the authority's new, integrated, behaviour support policy is proving.

It can be summed up: identify problems early, intervene fast and, if no improvement occurs, move the pupil to a more suitable setting. In the last resort, transfer the pupil to another school - he or she will always be accepted by the receiving head.

"You've got to get in there early," stresses Ceirion Williams, head of the behaviour support service, set up in its present form in 2001. "And you've got to go in and demonstrate - pass on your skills to teachers," he adds.

Mr Williams, with 25 years' experience in comprehensives, is himself a dab hand at getting the unruly to behave. He presides over a team of seven support teachers and four support assistants, who go into schools to help with pupils showing "social, emotional andor behavioural difficulties" (SEBD) that might lead to exclusion.

In line with the policy of early action, most of the teachers and all the assistants are in primary schools. There are also three teachers and assistants in the Place team, supporting the nearly 400 pupils in public care.

The service unites under one management structure a finely graded system of intervention to deal with everyone from the 5-year-old who will not speak, to the 11-year-old who will not settle, and the 14-year-old who has thrown a chair through the window.

In primary schools, children identified as having problems are educated in special small classes with only eight pupils. Two are "nurture groups", for young pupils with delayed social and educational development, where they may spend up to two terms. The others are for those with social and behavioural difficulties. Pupils may stay for up to four terms before either moving on to a special school or, in most cases, returning to mainstream.

There are also nurture groups of up to a dozen pupils at the start of secondary school, for pupils who are expected not to make a smooth transition.

If action within the school fails, pupils are placed in a short-term pupil-referral unit, the Tai Centre, for up to two terms. Here they take an intensive programme to change their behaviour as well as following a curriculum, with special stress on literacy and numeracy. They stay on the books of their mainstream school, to which four out of five will return.

If their behaviour still fails to improve, they will move on to the long-term pupil-referral unit, the Ty Gwyn Centre, and follow a modified national curriculum. Once again, the aim is re-integration into mainstream but this does not usually happen at secondary level.

For seriously disaffected pupils in key stage 4, there is a special programme of work placements but, in the case of a serious, one-off incident, transfer to another school will be considered.

"We have got the provision within the authority," says Mike Keating, the assistant director for school support and improvement. "There is no point being inclusive if you haven't got anywhere for the kids to go."

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