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Organic evolution of the feel-good factor

"There are no quick-fire remedies but we want to make sure there is no sense of failure on their part," says Tim Barclay, head of Hove Park School in Brighton. "We aren't here to make the kids happy, as such, but we can make them feel good about themselves."

Tackling disengagement at key stage 3 is a crucial aspect of life at Hove Park and began in earnest four years ago. Since then, the 1,870-pupil school has adopted many different strategies to tackle the problem, most of which are aimed at prevention.

"The spectrum of problems is huge, and can range from those who haven't brought a pen with them to class to those who are bereaved because of the death of a parent, or who have suffered family breakdown," says Mr Barclay.

The focus is on developing good relationships. Pupils are offered opportunities to play an active part in the running of the school through student voice activities, and older students can volunteer to peer-mentor younger pupils. "We make sure there are significant adults around all the time," Mr Barclay says.

The school offers a range of support for basic skills and core activities that encourage independent learning and practical skills.

Extra-curricular activities aimed at showing that school is not necessarily boring and all about academic subjects include music and drama. Courses are available in areas such as motor mechanics and music technology to provide some preparation for life beyond school, and there is a school allotment where pupils grow their own food and learn about the environment.

"Personalised learning is a really important part of what we do, and is crucial to motivating and engaging pupils," says Mr Barclay.

"Staff have regular meetings to evaluate pupil progress, and we can pull them out of lessons and get them doing other things if we need to. We can flag up those who have been identified as needing additional attention or care because of something that is happening in their lives."

Not all the strategies that have been adopted have worked. "Where we can see that something isn't working, then we drop it for something that does. It has been an organic evolution," he says.

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