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Pupil 'peacemakers' clean up playground

A PERTH-based project that aims to cut exclusions from school by targeting pupils at risk has won praise from HMI and from Europe, and is about to be extended to all schools in Perth and Kinross.

The "Building Bridges" project was the centre-piece of a European conference held in Perth last week. An innovative aspect is the use of pupil volunteers as playground "peacemakers". Wearing their own distinctive uniforms, they are asked to spot problems and attempt mediation.

Kick-started in January last year with pound;180,000 from the Government's alternatives to exclusion programme, the project will be expanded with the help of the pound;23 million being made available over the next three years to meet the national target of reducing exclusions by a third by 2002.

Perth and Kinross will receive an extra pound;580,000.

The Perth initiative is also distinctive in targeting "at risk" pupils in upper primary and early secondary. The schools involved are North Muirton and Northern District primaries along with Perth Grammar.

The project was given added significance by an invitation to take part in a Euro programme dealing with youth disaffection, which involved Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and France. Representatives from each country attended the project's final meeting at the Perth conference - entitled "Convivir Es Vivir" ("To Live Together is to Live").

Jan Lindelow, a headteacher from Stockholm, was particularly impressed by the joint working arrangements between different agencies. In Sweden, professionals are constrained by the law and by their own practice, Mr Lindelow said. But the pupil peacemakers were more familiar to Swedes, resembling "peer mediators" whose task is to resolve conflict.

Bill Maxwell, HMI, told the conference that the Perth schools had a good focus on early intervention and prevention, developed a strong inter-agency approach and put an emphasis on developing personal and social skills.

Dr Maxwell said that Building Bridges addressed the "major principle of policy that social, emotional and behavioural difficulties should be seen as special educational needs rather than being seen negatively".

Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross, agreed that "joined-up thinking and joined-up planning" were an essential part of the approach. The project could be adopted as good practice by other authorities.

"This Government and this council are now signed up to key themes of social inclusion, promoting and assuring quality and promoting improved attainment," Mr McKay said. "This will be done through establishing effective partnerships with parents, social work and health boards based on a shared agenda and shared values which are whole-child centred. The whole child is our collective responsibility."

The council now plans to involve every teacher in the anti-exclusion drive. "It's not just for small groups to decide do it. The lessons learnt apply to all schools and all teachers and we all have a duty to contribute to social inclusion projects,"Mr McKay said.

WHAT HMI LOOKS FOR

* Auditreview of provisions inherited by the council from the previous authority.

* Comprehensive strategy for continuum of support and provision within mainstream schools.

* Shift of resources to earlier intervention and preventive approaches.

* Development of skills of mainstream staff.

* "Spend to save" approach which provides "best value".

Source: Bill Maxwell, HMI

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