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Staged intervention shows value of a staffroom buddy

Simple classroom strategies and new skills devised with colleagues can ease many problems caused by low-level disruption.

Findings from the first Scottish staged intervention project in East Ayrshire show that the method is more successful with probationer staff.

Experienced teachers can be reluctant to call in a mentor when a class is causing problems. This is seen as an admission of failure by many.

The three-level intervention system for countering routine but niggling discipline problems was introduced three years ago after East Ayrshire staff picked up the approach from Birmingham where it is deployed in more than 400 schools.

Around 60 East Ayrshire schools are now involved and the initiative has spread to a quarter of Scottish authorities and has the backing of Peter Peacock, Education Minister, in his national drive on classroom indiscipline.

Results unveiled at the ethos conference in Edinburgh show that seven out of 10 East Ayrshire teachers questioned by reseachers accept that staged intervention is a positive and realistic approach and dovetails with existing behaviour strategies.

Evidence from Birmingham confirms that up to 80 per cent of problems can be managed at the first stage of intervention where a colleague is called in voluntarily and confidentially to offer advice. It can take five years to establish the system, the city says.

The second stage of intervention involves individual behaviour plans for pupils drawn up with the school's behaviour co-ordinator and the third stage involves external help.

The East Ayrshire research reveals much less dependency on the headteacher as the first point of call as peer support becomes a more accepted practice.

Tom Williams, senior psychologist, said: "The overall feeling is that it is a worthwhile resource but it is still in its infancy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that morale is higher in schools."

Dr Williams said that two fundamental factors were the right appointment for the behaviour co-ordinator and the backing of senior managers. "If either of them is missing, it will flounder. It is crucial that the behaviour co-ordinator is not seen as a hotwire back to senior management," he said.

In small schools it was difficult for heads not to know that a teacher had sought assistance but confidentiality was at least maintained in the agreed strategies. "I have to say some headteachers have had problems with this and they want to know the reality of what is going on in the classroom," Dr Williams said.

Maggie Fallon, youth strategy manager, who is seconded part-time to the Scottish Executive to promote staged intervention, said that other difficulties were a lack of supply teachers to cover when co-ordinators were working in another class. Others cited a lack of time. Some said low level disruption was not a priority.

Ms Fallon said one incentive for teachers to involve the co-ordinator was being able to offset the development of class strategies against their compulsory 35 hours of professional development.

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