Bad boys pull their weight

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Shoulder presses, leg extensions and tricep pushes in a multi-gym first thing in the morning, followed by a mid-morning breakfast, are helping transform the fortunes of some of the most disaffected pupils at a West Lothian secondary. The rest of the school also benefits from quieter classes.

Recent teacher union conferences have again demanded firmer action against pupils who cause mayhem in classes and corridors, but the eight Bathgate boys are said to have lifted hopes - as well as weights. They have shown that an "active curriculum base" can deal effectively with groups intent on disruption.

Most of the boys have been excluded for assaults or threats to pupils or teachers, regularly misuse drink and drugs and are well known to police and social workers. They are said to have brought a "gang culture" to school.

A newly published report on the pioneering base for seriously disruptive and aggressive boys shows exclusions at the school are down from 57 to one and all the boys in the group will achieve some official Standard grade recognition, mostly at Access level. Formal disciplinary warnings are down from 11 to zero.

The daily exercise programme has been key to the apparent transformation and has had an impact on fitness, body image, posture and self-esteem. One boy appeared to be five centimetres taller because of better posture.

The boys are given a healthy lunch during their day in the base and encouraged to top up with water. The school already ran a philosophy of a "positive living academy" and tailored it to this special group of disruptive boys.

Joe Boyd, headteacher, said teachers reported that other pupils have settled significantly since the group was removed. Behaviour in corridors has improved and the boys are much less aggressive in casual encounters.

The group is no longer being supervised intensively by social workers and police interest in them has dropped.

One student received an award for voluntary work and four have had extended work experience placements. One has a job offer.

Teachers comment positively on the effects on other pupils. "Practical sessions no longer dangerous," one said. Another noted: "With this pupil removed, disruption is reduced. Much more settled teaching environment."

Behaviour outside class had improved, according to one comment. "Pupils are slightly calmer without the influence of some of the boys from the base. I think they have really turned the corner and good luck to them."

Besides the physical start to the day, the boys were given small group tuition in Access 3 maths, English and biology, plus Standard grade social and vocational skills. Each pupil was given a laptop in the base. The most expensive input was "a gifted practitioner to be the group's mentor and class teacher".

Charlie Walker, an educational psychologist who carried out an evaluation for the school, observed that the boys had all experienced poor peer relationships, and their main focus was out of school.

Most had been through extensive counselling and other support. "In every case, however, these inputs had met with either total failure, or some partial success which was not sustained over time or across the range of classroom and other environments encountered in school."

Parents and carers were also at a loss and recognised they could do no more than school staff or other agencies to control them.

Active Curriculum: A Programme for Full Support is published by Bathgate Academy.

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