Puppets take on trouble

More teachers than ever are resorting to puppets to turn badly behaved pupils into little angels, it has been claimed.

And one scheme, featuring Dino the Dinosaur, has proved so successful in Gwynedd it has been extended to all its 106 primary schools.

Dr Judy Hutchings and her Incredible Years Team at Bangor university have been pushing the scheme, which is based on 10 years of work by Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton. However, it really took off in March 2005 when the Assembly government touted it as good practice in a plan to raise the profile of parenting in Wales.

Adults using the technique don't have to become skilled ventriloquists like Keith Harris with his nappy-wearing, green bird puppet, Orville, according to the experts. Instead, it's all about encouraging young children to focus on what the puppet is saying and doing, rather than the words from the mouth of a teacher or parent.

Gwenda Roberts, a teacher at Gwynedd's Welsh-medium Ysgol Abercaseg, said that the Dino the Dinosaur scheme was about promoting social skills and good manners.

"Wally is the little boy trying to behave. He makes mistakes but the children learn through these," she said. Catrin Jackson, a classroom assistant with two daughters at the school, added: "I have noticed a change in the children, they seem to really relate to the puppets."

Last year, the Assembly government pledged pound;50,000 for the scheme. It has also attracted attention from over the border. Hilary Armstrong, the Minister for Social Exclusion, has become the latest visitor to Gwynedd to observe the project first-hand.

She paid a visit to the Ysgol Abercaseg infants school at Bethesda to see Dino and Wally in action. She said she wanted to sell the scheme's success in England.

Last year an Estyn inspection found "a significant improvement in attitudes towards learning and in the overall standard of behaviour" because of the programme.

Dr Hutchings said: "The long-term benefits to society are that children are better able to achieve their academic potential and are less likely to become involved in criminal activities."

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