Troubled children whose problems are masked by a quiet demeanour are now more likely to be identified, thanks to a trial project in Glasgow which asked whole classes of primary pupils about social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD).
The stigma of SEBD issues began to melt away as pupils learned they were not alone in how they felt.
The University of Glasgow worked with P3 and P6 classes in eight schools, as part of a much larger evaluation of parenting support in the city. The project involved the Goodman strengths and difficulties questionnaire for behavioural screening, which asked 25 questions. Teachers completed them for P3s, while P6s did it themselves. About 600 pupils took part.
The main advantage for P6 pupils was that the questionnaire could "break down taboos around discussing these issues", says a report.
Pupils already talked in the playground about social and emotional issues, but doing the questionnaire as a whole class "could make children feel that it was OK to bring these issues into the classroom".
Researcher Louise Marryat, of the university's Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said teachers now felt more aware that quiet children might be harbouring difficulties, which had been less likely to be noticed than in more boisterous children.
About one in three P6s had experienced emotional difficulties, and one of the most striking discoveries for teachers was their prevalence among girls.
Staff felt the questionnaire gave some children a chance to express what they had long wanted to share, "whilst knowing that nobody was going to be judging them and that it was done in confidence".
When P6s saw the overall results, "they could see that they were not alone in feeling a particular way, and that there was not `something wrong' with them".
P3 staff reported that the project - soon to be introduced throughout Glasgow - had allowed "space to take a step back and think about pattern of behaviour in a child and why they may behave that way, rather than the day-to-day fire-fighting and discipline", Miss Marryat said.
Not everyone was impressed. Where staff felt they already knew their children well in terms of social and emotional development, the questionnaires were seen as an "add-on", and some complained about the hour-and-a-half or more that P3 questionnaires took to complete.
Miss Marryat worked with Professor Phil Wilson and Dr Lucy Thompson, with help from the city council and the NHS.
How do you feel?
Some of the statements put to P6s:
- I get a lot of headaches, stomachaches or sickness.
- I usually share with others.
- I usually do as I am told.
- I worry a lot.
- I am constantly fidgeting or squirming.
- Other people my age generally like me.
- I am kind to younger children.
- I think before I do things.