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Out of sight

CONTINUING OUR SERIES ON CHILDREN CHILD DEVELOPMENT. The demonisation of Richard Wilding, Nottingham's "schoolboy from hell", to quote the tabloids, is complete. He has become the scapegoat for all society's ills. The press has cooked up an unsavoury mix of original sin and the sins of his father and mother and heaped them upon the pudgy-faced 13-year-old boy.

The press had a field day with this educationally blighted family. The nation tutted as it read about Richard's oldest brother, Robert who was excluded from the same school, Glaisdale Comprehensive. It rolled its eyes at the mention of his 10-year-old brother Raymond, who does not attend school. It fumed when it heard about eight-year-old Rikki, who is on his third primary school. For his part Richard has had a statement of special needs for some time and until teachers threatened strike action was receiving classroom support at school as well as home tuition. The strike was only averted when it was agreed that Richard would not be taught on school premises.

Instead, he will receive home tuition and support at a special unit.

What do we deduce from this picture? Objectively, here are four children whose inability to fit into the school system have led to their being removed from it, temporarily or permanently. Clearly they have problems that, despite special needs provision in Richard's case, persist.

If any good comes out of this sorry mess at all, it will have been the focus on the issue of mainstream children with emotional and behaviour difficulties - and those who teach them. Emotional and behavioural difficulty (EBD) is, in the words of John D'Abbro, head of New Rush Hall School for EBD children in Redbridge, north-east London, "the largest growth area in special needs".

In the past five years he has seen a large increase in the numbers of primary school-aged children, invariably boys, who are being classed as EBD after exclusion, some from as young as five. His school runs an outreach programme designed to avoid the exclusions many schools are resorting to out of desperation. The Reception class and Year 1 are seen as target areas.

A myriad of factors leave schools unable to cope with these children. In the past few years, two of the most striking have been the lack of resources at an early enough stage and the pressure on schools to present an attractive image.

From the parents' and child's point of view, the options after exclusion can be soul-destroying.

Claudette's 11-year-old son Stephen was excluded from two primaries for aggressive behaviour before a referral to New Rush Hall. After the second exclusion, he was at home for six months with no home tuition, despite his mother ringing the education department weekly. While he now gets the specialised attention he needs, Claudette fears he will be excluded again if, as the LEA suggests, he starts "normal" secondary school in September.

Both of Helen Fenton's sons were excluded from primary school. A few years later, they were diagnosed as having attention deficithyperactivity disorder. Fenton, who is a social worker, believes that large numbers of undiagnosed ADHD children are referred to EBD schools that are not appropriate for their specific problems. A 1994 DFE survey showed primary children represented between 12 and 13 per cent of all permanent exclusions; just over a quarter return to mainstream school.

Carl Parsons, who headed the research team, believes that it shouldn't be legal to exclude primary children. "Their care and education ought to be managed so that if teachers can't cope, there is an effective transition to, for example, an EBD school or a mixture of home tuition, counselling, group teaching or classroom assistants in the mainstream school." If this sensible and humane approach holds water, what should we deduce from the case of Richard Wilding, who had his classroom assistant and his home tuition and still managed to drive teachers - and himself - to the brink

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