Charity's mentors reach out to troubled children;Research focus;Briefing

1st October 1999 at 01:00
SCHOOLS around the world are concerned at growing violence and other anti social behaviour, but research has suggested that the trend can be countered if adults build one-to-one relationships with troubled children.

The British charity School Outreach provides schools with pastoral care workers who befriend pupils. More than 50 work in schools and their placements extend from four to 10 years.

The aim of School Outreach is to complement the relationship between parents, teachers and the children by encouraging personal development and preventing destructive behaviour.

This is achieved by developing relationships through classroom and one-to-one work with pupils Children either refer themselves or are identified by their teacher or outreach worker after classroom observations.

Workers bring in outside professionals when necessary, such as psychologists and health and social service workers.

The headteacher of a Berkshire middle school reported that two years after the arrival of an outreach worker, the number of temporary exclusions had dropped from 50 to three, staff had stopped leaving, and there was less disruptive behaviour.

He also said that anger management training by the outreach worker had made a significant impact on staff attitudes to pupils.

The headteacher attributed the success of the project to the way it "addressed the whole child in a preventative and positive way, enabling teachers, parents and community workers to work closely together".

The work of School Outreach was described by Dr Sonia Blandford of Oxford Brookes University who also reported on similar work in South Australia, where 75 per cent of schools run a Learning Assistance Programme to provide one-to one support for students.

Parents, grandparents, secondary students and community members volunteer to befriend a pupil by working with him or her in school once or twice a week.

Mentors aim to give the pupil a sense of worth and confidence. The pupils may need help with classwork, have social difficulties or need encouragement to develop a talent or interest.

In recognition of its cost-effectiveness and value to the school community, the Learning Assistance Programme is supported by government and private agencies as well as internationally by the European Council of International Schools.

The underlying principle behind these programmes and others documented in the paper is that schools on their own cannot meet pupils' often complex needs. In turning to outside agencies for help, they benefit not only pupils and their families, but also staff and the community.

"The management of discipline in schools: a comparative analysis of multi agency support in mainstream secondary schools in England and Australia", by Dr Sonia Blandford, School of Education, Oxford Brookes University. E-mail sblandford@brookes.ac.uk

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