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Shake-up for ailing pupil support

Dumfries and Galloway is set to relaunch its support system for problem pupils following a notably self-critical review that said the council's provision was "reactive, piecemeal and inequitable".

As pupil behaviour strategies move up the educational agenda, a report to councillors yesterday (Thursday) states: "Allocation of resources to behaviour support has largely been reactive. While this has undoubtedly provided some children with appropriate support, the absence of a strategy consistently applied across the authority has led to an inequitable distribution of resources."

The paper, written by Stuart Beck, head of psychology and learning support services, says the existing policy has also failed to address the increasing number of children excluded from school or placed in residential schools.

There were 54 "stage one" exclusions from Dumfries and Galloway primary schools in 1992-93, which rose to 79 in 1995-96. Secondary figures rose from 229 to 348.

Mr Beck's report notes that the service has been particularly "piecemeal and inequitable" in secondary schools. Stranraer Academy and Douglas Ewart High have behavioural support units yet both are comparatively high excluders. Elmbank day school in Dumfries supports up to 16 children but only those within a reasonable commuting distance.

Youth projects in Annan, Dumfries, Wigtown and Stranraer targeted on children with behavioural problems end this month.

The Pounds 170,000 which the council earmarked for these four projects will be used to fund a new assessment and support service, the contract for which has unusually been put out to tender. A bid will be made under the Scottish Office "alternatives to exclusion" programme which could provide another Pounds 450,000 over three years. Funding has already been found to bring the team of seven educational psychologists up to eight.

The new system will be co-ordinated by primary and secondary review groups that will support short-term targeted intervention for all schools, including those unsupported at present, so that intractable problems do not develop. Elmbank school will in future offer "a range of customised programmes" for more children, with alternatives to the mainstream curriculum.

The council's report accepts that "the reactive nature of behaviour support will continue, at least in part. There is a need, however, for a more coherent structure, centred on the promotion of positive behaviour and which allows a range of responses."

The local children's panel, headteachers and unions have welcomed the moves.

Helping hand, TES2, pages 3, 8

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