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How a new town is tackling an old problem;Briefing;Analysis

PETERBOROUGH may be a new town, but it is plagued by the same problems of social exclusion experienced by cities with much longer histories. One in five of its children lives in households with no working adult, and 40 per cent of its crime is committed by 17 to 20-year-olds.

As a new unitary authority in April 1998, it took over education and social services from Cambridgeshire. And its directors of education and social services, Bill Goodwin and Maureen Allen have signalled that they want to attack exclusion through school-based programmes that draw on voluntary-sector expertise.

As well as a major increase in early-years services, they are discussing a three-pronged approach with three charities. All of them will work with schools.

The Family Welfare Association will run parenting skills courses and playgroups geared to children whose backgrounds are likely to disadvantage them when they start school. This is work it currently does, for example, among Bangladeshi families in Tower Hamlets, east London.

For primary-aged children, the authority hopes to work with the National Pyramid Trust. The trust helps schools to identify pupils with poor communication skills who are isolated from their peer group - the kind of children likely to fade away from school in their teens. It also runs volunteer-led activities that build their self-esteem and emotional health.

For secondary pupils, the authority is talking to Include about alternatives to school exclusion and ways of motivating 14 to 16-year-olds who are drifting away from school.

These are likely to cover staff training in behaviour management, curriculum changes and vocational options for 14 to 16s.

Initially the charities will work with pilot schools, says Goodwin. There will also be an outreach strand for families who will not come into schools.

"It's reaching parents that is the key to it. What these sort of strategies would offer us is direct support to parents. You work with the home, you work with the child, and of course you work on educational strategies as well.

"But it's not simply a question of leaving it to a teacher in a classroom with a study programme."

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