County 'help squad' makes an impact

An innovative "help squad" has cut the number of children being excluded from school in two large towns, and helped to slow down a county's spiralling exclusion rate.

Gloucestershire's five-strong education and social support group - known as the ESS-Team - was set up three years ago to counter dramatic increases in permanent exclusions, which had seen numbers jump from 37 in 1990 to 177 only four years later.

The group is drawn from education department staff and social workers to provide help for children who are in danger of being thrown out of mainstream schooling.

Youngsters are referred by teachers, social workers or educational psychologists. They are put in touch with a member of the team, who can offer support in the classroom, counselling, or assistance with members of their families to try to deal with disruptive behaviour and keep the child in the classroom.

All team members now have counselling qualifications, and one of them has experience of helping children to cope with bereavement.

The scheme had an immediate effect, cutting Gloucestershire's exclusion figures from 177 in 1993-94 to 155 the year after. Permanent exclusions continued to rise in subsequent years, however, to last year's figure of 188.

But education officer Mark Rousseau, who manages the ESS-Team scheme, said that many children had been kept in school because of the experts' intervention, and the pilot project had now been made a permanent feature of the authority's education department.

He said: "We have maintained or kept on a good number of children who would have been excluded. In some cases we have not succeeded, but in others we have been tremendously successful.

"There's pretty solid evidence that the ESS-Team is having an impact on the situation. I think if we were to pull the programme we would see exclusion rates in Gloucester rising quite dramatically."

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