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Off the rails and nowhere to turn

Welfare shortages leaving problem pupils out of control. Nicola Porter reports

Overworked education welfare officers in Wales are failing to cope with high numbers of children who have gone off the rails, a new report is expected to reveal.

An investigation by the National Foundation for Educational Research will expose how hundreds of children at risk of exclusion are being let down because of staffing shortages in the education welfare service.

Professor Ken Reid, deputy principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education, was part of the academic research team which looked at provision for problem pupils in Wales's 22 local authorities. He said the report will reveal that one council in the south Wales valleys has just four education welfare officers -the lowest anywhere in Wales.

"Not enough money is being put into initiatives helping to turn around bad behaviour in Wales - we are still playing catch-up with England," said Professor Reid.

The evaluation of Wales's "ailing" education welfare service is due to be published next week. The findings were shown to education, lifelong learning and skills minister Jane Davidson hours before she announced a major review into bad behaviour in Welsh schools last week (TES Cymru, March 10).

She said evidence from the NFER report would be used to develop new regulations on excluded pupils and guidelines on parental responsibility - including parenting orders and contracts.

Consultation on the behaviour review will begin this summer, with a steering group meeting for the first time in the autumn. Peter Clarke, the children's commissioner for Wales, and representatives of children's charities such as Barnardo's, will be asked to sit on the steering committee.

Every school must have a written behaviour policy, but Ms Davidson said policies alone were no longer enough to tackle bad behaviour in schools, including truancy, violence, and bullying.

She added: "On bullying I believe we are making a more direct commitment than anywhere else in the UK."

Professor Reid said one of the review's major remits should be to look at the opening of dedicated centres for children excluded from school.

Teachers should also receive more training in understanding the underlying causes of bad behaviour. The centres, he said, would focus on an alternative curriculum and be staffed by a mix of qualified teachers and community leaders.

In England, alternative curriculum centres are already up and running in many cities. But in Wales, a high number of excluded children are eventually "lost to the system". Professor Reid also said a less-punitive approach should be taken in Wales to dealing with parents of unruly children.

In England, parenting orders have been an option for two years, and schools could soon be given the power to apply for them directly. Currently, requests are made by LEAs. But Professor Reid said courts should send parents on courses in coping with bad behaviour, rather than punish them.

Bethan Guilfoyle, head at Treorchy comprehensive, Rhondda Cynon Taf, welcomed the review. But she said preventing bad behaviour in schools should be the priority. David Evans, secretary-in-waiting of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said more clarity was needed on how far teachers can go disciplining pupils.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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