A little support goes a long way

26th September 2008 at 01:00
Teachers support inclusion in principle but not necessarily in their classrooms, especially when it comes to pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, according to a lecturer in education at Strathclyde University.

Joan Mowat found that teachers were "at best, lukewarm and, at worst, hostile", when she began introducing support groups to re-engage SEBD pupils with learning in a Scottish secondary.

It was difficult to persuade staff that children with social, emotional and behavioural problems "deserved support", she reported in a paper presented to the British Educational Research Association's annual conference earlier this month in Edinburgh.

She was even advised not to mention "support" in the initiative's title because "it might get staffs' backs up", she told those gathered.

Youngsters' behaviour started to improve after attending support groups, but even when that improvement was "remarkable", Dr Mowat found the pupils struggled to "cast off established reputations".

One boy had amassed 30 referrals for serious indiscipline and 23 days of exclusion from school in the term prior to joining the support group. After attending, his referrals dropped by 75 per cent and exclusions were reduced to four days. "Yet his class teachers did not comment upon any improvements in his behaviour," she says.

Support groups have been running since 1998 at Vale of Leven Academy in West Dunbartonshire, where Dr Mowat used to be assistant head and, in the seven years she ran the programme, many cynics were won over - but not all. She joined Strathclyde University in 2005.

Her study - involving 69 pupils over five years - found that referrals to senior management and exclusions dropped significantly. While school attendance among support-group pupils tailed off, it was not as bad as that of other pupils in their year. Although the support-group pupils had accounted for around half of all unauthorised absence in S1, by S3 this had reduced to a third.

The scheme, however, had no impact on attainment although "more positive dispositions towards learning and school emerged".

Dr Mowat developed the support groups after finding the same pupils were being referred to her for indiscipline time and again.

The aim of the initiative, which targeted S2 pupils, was to re-engage the youngsters in learning by "developing their self-understanding and understanding of others". The groups met for one period a week (55 minutes) for 20 weeks and every day after school.

"Towards Inclusive Schools": an evaluation of an approach to promote social and emotional learning in pupils perceived as having social and emotional behavioural difficulties

Using Support Groups to Improve Behaviour, by Joan Mowat (PCP).

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