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'Support' units for disruptive children

As the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association meets in Aviemore this weekend with classroom indiscipline top of its agenda, West Lothian is set to become the first council to establish "support for learning" bases in every secondary school, backed by extra staff and equipment.

Eleven secondaries will be given additional cash to provide more appropriate education for pupils with emotional and behavioural needs. Around Pounds 400,000 is being channelled into the initiative, partly through funds redirected from the special educational needs budget. Disruptive pupils who would normally be sent outwith the council area will now be educated in their local school.

The authority is also setting up a new school in Polkemmet for secondary pupils who fail to cope in the new learning bases.

A controversial SSTA report makes 22 recommendations for dealing with disruptive pupils. Heading the list is a plea for "adequate resourcing" to tackle indiscipline, supported by new legislation or guidelines on ways to deal with persistent offenders.

David Eaglesham, the union's general secretary, welcomed the West Lothian initiative but stressed that a much larger number of occasionally disruptive pupils should be sent to day units or a "time-out" facility.

West Lothian has told headteachers that the bases are not meant to deal with day to day indiscipline. Kate Reid, the council's head of educational development and quality assurance, said: "These are not sin bins and it is not crisis management." The intention was to end exclusions.

Around 10 to 15 pupils, often persistent truants and pupils who would otherwise be excluded, are expected to be taught in each base under the supervision of a teacher and assistant. All will go through a referral process and have their learning needs assessed in an effort to return them to mainstream classes. "If all fails and these children are not making it in mainstream, then we can refer on to the new school," Mrs Reid said.

The effectiveness of the scheme will be measured against improved attendance and attainment, formal and informal exclusion figures and increased parental involvement.

Meanwhile, East Ayrshire is to spend Pounds 200,000 on a series of initiatives to combat deprivation and underachievement, including projects on truants and support for pupils with behavioural problems, funded by savings from last year's school closures programme.

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