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Empathy is the new buzz-word

The majority of secondary teachers now believe indiscipline is a major concern - but most primary staff do not share that view. David Henderson reports

Heading off problems means tackling social and emotional issues among young people and building relationships between teachers and pupils, local authorities say.

At a seminar in Airdrie to coincide with the Scottish Executive announcements, Ian Glen, head of pupil support services in Edinburgh, said that he had been impressed by the long-term study of 4,000 young people born in 1970 which showed that "the best predictor of success at the age of 30 was self-esteem at the age of 10".

Reading, writing and maths were important but not as significant as the emotional development of children or their feelings of self-worth, according to the British Cohort Study.

Sadly, a number of young people presented particularly challenging behaviour and could not relate to adults in school. Edinburgh launched a pilot teacher empathy course in August to help staff work with difficult pupils.

It will equip them with classroom management strategies and better means of communicating with young people, including insights into youth culture.

At another level, the city has trained 120 behaviour co-ordinators as part of its staged intervention initiative. Three out of four schools now have them.

In Glasgow, Margaret Orr, head of special educational needs, said that eight learning communities (formed by clusters of schools) are to pilot a SELF (Social Emotional Learning Framework) programme to help teachers assess pupils as they enter the late stages of primary and move on into early secondary. The city has already developed nurture classes in early primary to focus on preventive work with children on the margins.

In Fife, the Cool in School initiative is making an impact on personal and social education. Developed as a resource for P6 and P7 pupils, it teaches pupils how to manage feelings and handle responses to situations.

In East Renfrewshire, where 85 per cent of children with additional support needs are in mainstream, the five assistants in behaviour support in each secondary are being made permanent. Youth counsellors are also being deployed in secondaries.

In its latest advice on behaviour, the Executive underlines the importance of emotional intelligence when pupils may receive "mixed messages about acceptable standards of behaviour and images of success from the media".

It adds: "A significant number of children face personal challenges for which schools are the first line of support."

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