Lucky 13 for youth strategy

Disruption in class, truancy, school phobia, malicious behaviour and low self-esteem. These are some of the reasons secondary pupils may be referred to "youth strategy". After 13 years the policy and the practice has been honed to meet the circumstances of individual pupils, which these days are many and varied.

School-based youth strategy, first devised in the former Lothian Region, is one of the country's unsung triumphs and a major reason Scotland has not followed the high exclusion rates south of the border.

The original intention was to cut the number of exclusions from a system that lost pupils once excluded, damaged their education and did not produce effective solutions in the long run.

Youth strategy sought to intervene earlier in secondary, bring concerned professionals together, work out answers for pupils and hold schools responsible. As the number of residential places was trimmed, more local provision emerged to give schools options.

In 1987, the formal exclusion rate in Edinburgh was 1.37 per cent of the roll. Ten years on, it is under 0.8 per cent. Colin Dalrymple, head of pupil support services, said: "We believe we are likely to be the lowest excluding authority in the UK."

The youth strategy is currently being "refocused" to absorb the messages of family charters and the Children Act, and the spectrum of needs broadened. But Mr Dalrymple pays tribute to school staff for taking the strategy to heart, and for their commitment to young people.

Mr Dalrymple admits the council has struggled to extend the system to primaries but believes the early intervention focus may offer them the opening.

Like most policies there are gaps between the words on paper and on-the-ground reality. Rab Burnett, assistant head of St Thomas of Aquin's, says: "The theory is excellent; the practice hinges on resources. There is a need to think more creatively about how to support pupils with acute needs."

Assistant heads, who tend to co-ordinate responses once the guidance system has picked up difficulties, welcome the formal system set up through the monthly liaison groups. Anyone, from doctors, social workers, educational psychologists and educational welfare officers, attends, with school staff and parents.

For pupils with difficulties, the group aims to produce tailor-made remedies. The experience of 13 years shows collaboration sometimes does pay dividends.

David Henderson

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