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Someone to talk to when the budgie dies

Learning mentor Grant Bryce-Stephen says he and his team at Yewlands school act as "a sponge for problem behaviour".

Reports of misbehaviour by 11 to 14-year-old pupils at the Sheffield technology college have fallen by around 45 per cent in the last year, largely thanks to the three mentors.

Mr Bryce-Stephen spends part of his day having one-to-one chats with pupils and the rest organising group workshops to help students tackle matters from low self-esteem to bereavement.

The personal chats can be harrowing. "Pupils talk to us about everything, from their budgie dying to family break-ups to child abuse," he said.

The mentors also run a Duke of Edinburgh award programme and another similar activity scheme twice a week. In one group, five of the 16 pupils are on their final warning before permanent exclusion.

If pupils misbehave they have to miss the activities. "We've had pupils breaking down in tears because they can't take part," Mr Bryce-Stephen said.

"To see these young people just fitting in at school in a normal way is amazing for us because we feel we've turned them around."

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