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`I would get into fights every day'

Fifteen-year-old Amanda was excluded from a South Yorkshire comprehensive because she repeatedly assaulted other pupils.

"I would get into fights every day. The other kids used to say horrible things about my family and call them names. All it would take was for someone to start winding me up and I'd blow up," said Amanda, who put one girl in hospital with a broken shoulder.

"I'd throw things at teachers; anything I could get my hands on, really, " she said.

Amanda receives full-time tuition at Redbarn House, a pupil referral unit jointly funded by Rotherham education authority and the charity, Barnardo's.

"Since I've been coming here I've calmed down," she said, adding that she had also given up drug-dealing.

Until she joined in April, Amanda thought studying was a waste of time. Now she is taking four GCSEs and eventually hopes to work with animals or children.

The project is run by eight staff specifically for excluded Year 10 and 11 pupils and caters for up to 35 teenagers referred by the local education authority.

Many, like Amanda, who has spent seven months in foster care and ran away from home for eight months before that, have behaviourial problems.

Project leader Ann Clegg said: "There are youngsters who have had bad home experiences and come from dysfunctional families. Then there is another group who tend to be defiant and unco-operative, and seem to have an innate resistance to abiding by rules."

A few have been sexually abused. Some have been involved in crimes such as stealing cars, shoplifting, assault and drugs. Others have developed problems with the arrival of a step-parent or a new baby. Most will not have received good parenting when they were very young. By the time they reach their teens "it's very difficult to correct mistakes from the early days," added Mrs Clegg.

At a time when increasing numbers of pupils are being excluded from mainstream schools, units such as Redbarn address the behaviour problems and underachievement of excluded pupils with individual tuition, a flexible curriculum and counselling where necessary.

"Mainstream schools just don't have the time or resources to spend on students with behaviour difficulties. Since the 1988 Education Act, teachers have been under terrific pressure from staff reductions and budget cuts," added Mrs Clegg.

At Redbarn House, a residential building equipped with three teaching rooms and a science lab, the emphasis is on creating a disciplined environment which does not feel institutionalised.

"We spend a lot of time listening to students and helping them to re-engage in education, improving their behaviour," said Mrs Clegg.

An individual plan is drawn up with targets for each teenager that will include GCSE maths, English, science and IT.

They also take part in the Youth Award Scheme and community work as well as projects on local issues such as conservation.

"These kids are entitled to an education, and we have a duty to help them. Many of them will laugh off the fact that they've been excluded, but underneath they feel rejected," said Mrs Clegg.

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