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How to help problem pupils

Schools have to buckle down and work with other agencies, say education chiefs. Neil Munro reports

SCHOOL STAFF have no option but to get down to hard work along with other professions to meet the needs of vulnerable and problem young people, Edinburgh's director of education told a council conference last week.

An audience drawn from across the professions heard Roy Jobson strongly criticise the preference south of the border for appointing "superheads", establishing city academies and creating education action zones.

Mr Jobson, formerly director of education in Manchester, said these were merely "quick fixes" which did not solve deep-seated problems.

"We have got to tackle problems in a multi-agency fashion, including those problems that lie outside the school's control," Mr Jobson added.

Edinburgh has just issued guidelines to all its schools for setting up new pupil support groups. These will include parents and children, social workers, psychologists, health experts, the police and workers from the voluntary sector as well as teachers. The aim is to ensure that children are kept "in their local school and in their local community".

The council received pound;320,000 from the Scottish Executive's excellence fund in the current financial year to develop alternatives to exclusion, part of a pound;23 million three-year programme.

But Glenn Rodger, the council's head of pupil support services, admitted that this policy was not popular with many parents (see letter, far right) and some staff remained to be convinced. He told the conference, however, that the social inclusion agenda would not go away.

The Government has set a UK-wide target for a 30 per cent fall in the number of pupils excluded from schools by 2003. It also wants excluded pupils to be out of full-time education for no more than three weeks.

Edinburgh had 1,700 pupil exclusions last year, of whom 50 were not readmitted to school.

"The main reason in my experience why schools opt for short-term exclusions of five days," Mr Rodger said, "is not to cure the youngsters, because that would take years in many cases. It's to provide respite for the class teacher and for the pupils in that class, and also to send out a signal to the rest of the pupils.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't continue to do that. But we must find a better system than sending youngsters out into the community and returning them to school by which time they are further behind educationally than they were before."

Edinburgh bills its response as "working together", a drive to bring different agencies together to assess and meet pupils' needs. Mr Rodger stressed the importance of intervening as early as possible - at the pre-school stages if required - in order to try to make a difference for pupils.

"We need to move from a reactive strategy involving panic responses to a proactive one," he added.

The authority would find solutions which were "fit for their purpose", Mr Rodger said.

It would not dispense with special schools, despite a ministerial drive from the Scottish Executive to integrate pupils nto mainstream classes. Nor would Edinburgh be closing down its out-of-school bases.

"There are youngsters for whom a mainstream setting is not going to work for them," Mr Rodger made clear.

But Mr Rodger and Duncan Macaulay, head of operations in the social work department, made an equally strong case for cutting down the number of pupils sent out of the city for residential care and education; there are at present 57 such pupils. The bill, which had been running at pound;4 million, was pound;2 million last year.

Mr Rodger told the conference: "Sending kids out of their community makes it much harder to get them back in."

Mr Macaulay also stressed the value of local placements and local schooling, but he added that, despite its bad press, "residential care will still be the placement of first choice for some people".

Danny Costello, the assistant head at Wester Hailes Education Centre, complained that Government initiatives directed at raising attainment and tackling social inclusion were based on what could be afforded not on need. He added: "Target-setting and inclusion do not match."

Mr Rodger replied that, important though resources are, some of the most impressive changes in attitude to exclusions had come from schools where there had been a change of headteacher.

He called on the Government none the less to give a longer-term indication of how it was going to allocate its resources, so that local authorities could sustain these developments and plan more confidently for the future.


The conference also heard, unusually, from parents and

pupils about their experiences

of dealing with education and

social work professionals.

The highest praise was reserved for Panmure House, the city's out-of-school centre which supports secondary pupils having difficulty fitting into the mainstream.

It had "helped me learn to trust professionals again", Gillian Grant, a mother of four, said.

Terrie Hutton, whose main

school is Portobello High, said: "Panmure House treats us as young adults not as children.

They accept that you sometimes need your own space away from other people."

Angie Morell, a pupil at Drummond Community High, said

that it was important for staff to recognise that problems at home can affect how children progress

in school.


ONE PARENT'S view of social inclusion - as expressed in a letter to Edinburgh officials:

"I am writing to you to express my concern and anger about social inclusion in schools. My children attend a school where pupils have mixed backgrounds, ranging across the social spectrum. However, there are a number of children who, in my opinion, should not be included in mainstream education.

"The majority of hard-working families appear to have to put up with children who are trouble from day one. I do not wish to cause problems for the school involved as I think that they do the best that they can given that their hands are tied. It appears that the 'out of control' minority rule as a result of your policy."

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