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Pupil council creates partnership in learning

Allan's primary in Stirling, with a roll of more than 200, has been developing a positive discipline policy over the last two years via circle time, a "police box" and a pupil council.

Carol Allerdyce, the headteacher, and Robina McAnish, her deputy, are loathe to talk about "discipline", a word they say is loaded with negative connotations. They prefer terms like "pupil welfare" and "positive integration".

Circle time, where the class or group sit in a relaxed, secure atmosphere and share their thoughts, feelings and aspirations, they argue, allows each pupil to realise they have something valuable to give to the class, school and community.

There is no pressure to speak. A child may simply listen. Even here, some children feel inhibited and "nurture circles" have been formed, helping pupils in smaller, more intimate groups drawn from different classes.

The "police box", a cross-curricular resource developed with the help of Grampian Police, teaches life skills and promotes positive behaviour. The box contains cards on five main issues: bullying, drug and substance abuse, law and order, safety and vandalism. Links with the 5-14 guidelines are spelt out.

Ms McAnish says: "The topics are a bold attempt to tackle many contemporary issues, problems and situations which young people may experience and they are designed to help young people cope with peer group and societal pressures. " Under "a planned systematic approach", children are encouraged to bring forward problems or ideas and a pupil council meets once a week.

Every second week the headteacher is absent and the council is freely elected with two representatives from each year. With no formal agenda, it is free to raise matters it sees as important, such as toilets, school dinners and playground equipment.

There has been a meeting with the director of education, leading to the restoration of a broken play shed bench, an important safety issue "normal processes" had failed to deal with, the access officer, the parent-teacher association and the school board.

Changes were introduced to the dinner menu. The canteen introduced snacks. "They sorted out the skin on the custard problem," Ms Allerdyce says with approval.

Ms McAnish says: "They are partners. They are involved with their own learning, with their peers and with teaching and non-teaching staff." She claims "a massive impact on learning" and on "the school ethos". One third of the roll are on placing requests and some classes have waiting lists.

"Discipline should be proactive, not reactive," Ms McAnish says. "Self-assessment must be part of it or it won't work. In extreme cases, we would still bring in other agencies like child psychologists. Any other action would be very much a last resort."

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