Call for psychotherapy to be given to worst-behaved

10th June 2011 at 01:00
Government-commissioned research rejects strict discipline and 'boot camps'

Pupils with behavioural problems that could spiral into youth crime should be taught together in groups and offered psychotherapy in a bid to bring them under control, according to Government-commissioned research.

Strict discipline and boot-camp-style initiatives fail to improve the conduct of children in danger of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour and criminal activity, academics say.

The worst-behaved pupils should instead be taught in groups separate from other children and given a different curriculum and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

"Effective school-based programmes tend to be those aimed at changing the school environment as opposed to interventions that focus on changing the individual alone," the report says.

"This includes the reorganisation of grades or classes to group together high-risk or disruptive pupils for periods of the school day, while teaching them with alternative curriculum material and using cognitive behavioural techniques."

The work was produced by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions, a collaboration between researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, London University's Institute of Education and the National Centre for Social Research.

They looked at efforts in schools in both England and the US to stop vulnerable young people becoming involved in anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Some schools in the US are currently grouping high-risk pupils together in the same classes. Researchers found this works when teachers combine it with a special curriculum.

However, the report warns: "Any programme that groups high-risk students together in the absence of a structured programme is associated with increased levels of delinquency."

Ineffective interventions are those that focus on "coercion and control", the report said, for example "surveillance, deterrence or discipline". It names military-style boot camps, individual counselling that is not based on CBT, and unstructured life-skills training as all being unsuccessful.

Carol Hayden, a researcher of crime and anti-social behaviour in schools from the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at Portsmouth University, said CBT was mainly delivered in schools by educational psychologists, not teachers.

"To send teachers for training would be a real luxury item for schools," she said. "Many schools do employ counsellors and therapists now."

Vulnerable pupils have a wide range of needs, Professor Hayden added. "Schools need to work out why their behaviour is at odds with everyone else's and come up with individual solutions."

Philip Garner, a professor of education at Northampton University who produces resources to help trainee teachers learn about behaviour management, said successive governments had only concentrated on "short-term initiatives" to tackle unruly classrooms.

"We need consistency, and for health, education and social care professionals to work together. We know what works - rules, rewards and sanctions - we just need joined-up developments," said Professor Garner.


CBT shake-up

Cognitive behavioural therapy is carried out in schools by educational psychologists. But this profession is facing major changes after the Government ordered a review of their role.

Services are set to be opened up to market forces and the profession completely restructured so practitioners are no longer tied to local authorities and instead work directly for schools or parents.

Educational psychologists will have a wider role beyond working on statutory statement assessments. England currently has more than 2,100 educational psychologists, most of whom are local authority staff.

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