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It can be a dog's life helping in class

She was branded "bonkers" and eccentric. But Wendy Dyble's seemingly bizarre idea of having dogs as classroom assistants has been vindicated.

A Sheffield secondary school describes in Friday magazine in today's TES how a Cavalier King Charles spaniel has transformed behaviour and learning, in even the most difficult pupils.

The dog, four-month-old Henry Fanshawe Smart, has been helping out at Dronfield school where teachers claim he is a calming influence. They say he helps children to be more open about their problems and they are also learning to display and receive affection.

The idea of having dogs in schools was mooted by Ms Dyble, a primary teacher from Shetland, at the Professional Association of Teachers conference, in 1999. But it was dismissed as "crazy" and "just plain daft" and Ms Dyble was mocked by her profession.

At the time she suggested that dogs could help teachers to round up children, lick up spilt milk and could even be taught to "sniff out" youngsters who had had an accident in class.

Ms Dyble, who has taught at Scalloway junior high school on the west coast of Shetland for more than 20 years, and keeps cats rather than dogs herself, said this week: "I am absolutely delighted this idea is being successfully used in Sheffield, and I have heard of similar schemes in Germany.

"I still believe animals can have a really important and effective role to play in schools, as has been proved."

She added: "I got a lot of stick when I mentioned this. Some people were quite unkind. But it seems now that I have been vindicated and I'm very pleased about that because I knew I was right."

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