Police on school beat

Trained squad will work with most disruptive pupils during day to improve anti-social attitudes. Nicola Porter reports

A highly-trained squad of police officers are to work with some of Wales's most unruly children as part of their school day.

The 70-strong team is already receiving advanced training on handling life-threatening behaviour such as extreme violence, drug-taking and pupils demonstrating suicidal tendencies.

A working group was formed this month to discuss how the current personal and social education curriculum can include sophisticated programmes for disengaged children. It comes as new advice suggests headteachers should avoid unofficially excluding problem children and instead look at providing early intervention and support within schools.

In her annual report, Linda Roberts, national co-ordinator of the all-Wales police school liaison core programme, which already provides police officers trained to deliver PSE lessons, says it is vital to target bad behaviour as part of the school curriculum.

Ms Roberts said: "The officers are learning to handle anything from emotional literacy techniques to violent behaviour."

In her report, she says a specific PSE teacher should be appointed in every school to receive joint training with other agencies to strengthen the new programme.

New school programmes for 20067 include possession of illegal weapons and date rape in response to a rise in recorded incidents UK-wide.

Teaching staff have unanimously backed the move in a survey accompanying the report. All 843 primary and secondary schools which responded thought police officers were better equipped to deal with serious social issues.

Other schools reporting back said police officers provided reassurance and a "friendly face".

Education unions also support more police intervention in school life, claiming their members often feel on foreign territory when tackling hardcore social issues.

Police liaison officers have been seconded to schools since 2004 as part of the all-Wales liaison programme aimed at stamping out anti-social behaviour. Working within the PSE curriculum, the officers already address thorny issues such as domestic violence and racial tolerance.

Geraint Davies, Welsh secretary of the NASUWT Cymru, supported the move for trained police officers to tackle some of the tougher social issues in school.

He said: "It will take pressure off teachers, and pupils will have the on-the-spot specialist help that they need."

Sue Handley, head of Neath Port Talbot's Glan Afan comprehensive, said good relationships with her school liaison officer made life easier. "I can approach them with any problematic situation," she said.

Heads who spoke to TES Cymru this week also welcomed calls within the report for all-Wales guidelines on police involvement in school-based crimes.

At present Home Office guidelines say heads must call in police for all life-threatening crimes, such as attempted murder, but other areas are unclear. The Association of Directors of Education in Wales has already backed the move that would end the practice of heads using their discretion.

In a survey conducted earlier this year by the Welsh Secondary Schools Association, it was found that member schools believed bad behaviour by a minority of pupils was getting worse.

However, they said getting outside help from external agencies was often a difficult process.

Academics at Cardiff university have already endorsed the all-Wales school police liaison programme in a 2005 report, claiming it had "changed attitudes".

The Assembly government is to investigate the effectiveness of the programme on values, attitudes and behaviour in schools at the end of 2007.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

news 2, opinion cymru 21

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