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Support is at the heart of teaching

Care and friendship at Lumphinnans Primary is helping west Fife youngsters with behavioural difficulties to integrate into school life, writes Raymond Ross

What began as a support "unit" was renamed a support "centre" by management, because that's more user-friendly. Now, through pupil consultation, it is known as a support "class", as the children attending it declared: "We are a class. We're children like the others."

The support class at Lumphinnans Primary on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath, in Fife, takes pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties from up to 30 primaries in the west of the authority to support them and re-engage them with mainstream education.

"There are very few pupils we don't manage to reintegrate back into mainstream classes in their own schools," says behaviour support teacher Anna Harper.

"All but one of the children I've worked with in the past year are now back in their own schools, either with outreach support from us or signed off altogether."

The success may be due to many factors, including the class's experienced and dedicated staff of four (three full-time equivalents), but a major one seems to be that it and its pupils - no more than six at any given time - are seen as central to the whole school.

The classroom itself is in the middle of the school, reflecting the philosophy that these pupils are an important part of the school.

"When I came here in 1996," says headteacher Heather Hamilton, "my purpose was to integrate the pupils as seamlessly as possible. We don't want them in a vacuum. If they participate in the life of this school that will help them integrate into their own schools. It's extremely important that they feel a central part of the school."

Pupils come, on average, for two morning or afternoon sessions a week.

These sessions are spent in both the behaviour class and, with at least initial support, in the mainstream classes.

Initial assessment involves the pupils and their parents and begins with outreach teachers going to their schools, followed by transitional visits for both the pupils and parents to Lumphinnans Primary. The children then come to the support class, from where they are first integrated into mainstream classes in the school, before returning to their own schools with outreach support until they are deemed ready to continue in mainstream classes as fully integrated.

"The pupils and their parents are heavily involved from the start. They must feel ownership," says Mrs Hamilton. "The pupils have their own school board member and we have regular coffee evenings with the parents and children."

In consultation, the pupils are given both specific learning targets covering all areas of the curriculum and personal and social development targets.

"Supporting a child successfully is not just about resourcing and empathy.

You have to let them know you're onside with them but also that you and they have a curriculum to follow," says Mrs Hamilton.

"If you respond to their needs and views, you'll bring about results.

Children evaluate adult behaviour, so it's important to consult and to be seen to do so."

The pupils are given target cards covering personal and social development and curriculum areas, such as "I listen to others" or "I can complete a piece of writing with support", and the behaviour support and mainstream class teachers have copies.

"In a mainstream class, this can work almost as a secret code," says Ms Harper. "If a child is not adhering to the agreed target, the teacher can tap her pocket where she holds her copy of the card to remind the pupil of the targets. This avoids embarrassing the pupil in front of others."

Avoiding embarrassment and concentrating on building pupils' self-esteem go hand in glove. Confidence-boosting strategies include sending home achievement postcards as surprises.

One parent says this strategy "boosts the children's confidence, makes them proud of their achievement and makes them more determined to work hard as they know they will be rewarded".

Mrs Harper says: "You have to remember that when they first come here, a lot of these children may never have completed a piece of work and so have never experienced that feeling of success. It's very important to reward them."

Other pupils in the school welcome these new pals and are very proud of being a friendly school (as they declare in that straightforward Fife way).

Whether observing in the classrooms, walking the corridors or watching the pupils play at break time, you would be hard pressed to identify the support pupils.

The behaviour support staff at Lumphinnans Primary regularly consult and support mainstream staff in their own and other schools. They also provide resources and professional development in behaviour support for colleagues.

Perhaps the best measure of their success is something Mrs Harper declares: "The behaviour support pupils enjoy being here."

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