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How we did it

A primary school in Portsmouth has been a calming influence on children from communities scarred by paedophile protests, says Kim Wilcocks

This community has quite a difficult culture, linked to the paedophile protests two years ago. We were experiencing a lot of bad behaviour, particularly from the boys; a lot of negativity and disrespect towards adults.

We are in the third year of a programme involving six schools, called the Discovery Project, which aims to improve emotional literacy skills within the schools and then beyond into the local community.

We have been trying to change an "I can't do" culture into "I can and I am going to do my best". We felt we were in need of something different and had to move forward.

The programme consisted of bringing the six headteachers together, and appointing an experienced project co-ordinator. We looked at how to get this across into our schools, to the adults first, and then to the children.

The programme uses meditation and reflection time, built into the timetable at key points during the day; all the staff were trained during Inset sessions. Every class has a CD player and a range of music; playing Mozart in the background does have a calming effect.

We have meditation after playtime and lunchtime every day. If the children want to sit or lie on the floor, or just sit quietly in their chairs, they can take themselves to a special place. It's only for three or four minutes, but it refocuses them and brings them together as a class. It calms them down and then they can get on with their work.

We also have a "circle room", where the children can go to reflect, to celebrate good things about themselves, and to think about giving themselves the opportunity to help one another. There's another room where staff can meditate.

The children also have special diaries so that if they're having a difficult time, they can write things down. It's good, particularly when you're working hard to turn children around and make them feel more positive about themselves, that they have a chance to express their feelings and thoughts. If they wish to share them, that's their decision.

The project has had a huge impact. We've had fantastic reports about Year 6, who left last summer for secondary school. They went out holding their heads high, they're confident, they believe in themselves, they're willing to have a go at things, to take on responsibilitiesI that's fantastic.

The only sad thing is that the local authority funding is not going to continue after the end of this financial year. We will carry on doing it the best way we can because we believe in it. But it's going to be difficult.

Kim Wilcocks is headteacher of Portsdown primary, Portsmouth. Interview by Martin Whittaker

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