Children at risk get 10 of the best

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Elizabeth Buie visits one of Glasgow's new learning centres for pupils threatened with exclusion because of behaviour issues

Glasgow has always had schools for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties who were excluded from mainstream provision. But last year the council announced a new approach: 10 learning centres, five for primary and five for secondary, all serving a different area of the city.

Their role is to support pupils who are at risk of exclusion because of behaviour. Their interception is part of the council's "staged intervention" strategy, and they are expected to co-ordinate the work of the agencies involved in such cases.

Ladywell School in Scotstoun is the first secondary-stage learning centre to be set up and serves the west; Greenview School in the north-east is the first pre-fiveprimary learning centre. Each will be expected to support children in mainstream schools by offering:

  • training to build the capacity of school staff to deal with EBD problems
  • an outreach support programme to mainstream establishments
  • part-time placements alongside attendance at the mainstream establishment
  • full-time placements for those temporarily unable to remain in their mainstream school.
    • Anne Bombelli, head of Ladywell, has been working with SEBD children for more than 30 years. The school used to be based in the east end of Glasgow but moved to Scotstoun 12 years ago, when its premises were deemed unsuitable. That move was supposed to be temporary, but staff are looking to expand their provision in their current Victorian school premises.

      Ladywell is expected to focus on the six secondaries in the west of the city, but until the other four centres are set up, it will continue to take in pupils from all over. "The learning centres were Margaret Doran's vision - she got the ball rolling," says Mrs Bombelli, referring to Glasgow's executive director of children and families who set an ambitious multi-agency vision for the city.

      "This has been a dream of ours for a long time. It sounds twee, but it's something our children and families deserve."

      The vision includes closer work with parents, carers, home and youth link workers, psychological services, social care and health, specialists from mental health and addiction services, other partner agencies and the voluntary sector. Some will be centre-based. "I always wanted the psychologist and social workers coming in here, rather than into the children's homes," she adds.

      For its part-time attenders, Ladywell concentrates on two programmes - promoting positive behaviour and relationships, and anger management. Staff have written their own materials. The aim is to make learning fun with approaches such as "emotional bingo", where pupils have to look for faces with different expressions. "We have children who can't read cues - some can only recognise two emotions - angry or happy," says Karen Muir, principal teacher of curriculum.

      "The children have been to anger management sessions before," says Mrs Bombelli, "so we can't use commercial programmes - they would come in and say, `I've done that'."

      Workshops help children identify their anger triggers and how to use de- escalation techniques, while art and drama therapy sessions focus on self- awareness, social skills, self-esteem and role-play. But new areas of provision will include a sensory room to aid relaxation. With the advent of full-time attendees, Ladywell will have to offer a core curriculum and improve its links to college and employers, sports facilities, and leisure and culture services.

      An enhanced services co-ordinator is due to join Ladywell to organise the work of eight home-link and six youth-link workers. The post will involve co-ordinating activities during the holidays and after school.

      Until now, Ladywell has not been able to offer intensive support for families. "Families have asked for it - they do need it and want it. This is the exciting bit," says Mrs Bombelli.

      Her depute, Maureen Blee, who is responsible for the school's outreach work, explains that a lot of the children referred to them are on the autistic spectrum or have learning difficulties. "They all behave differently. Some are withdrawn, some are in your face. There are a lot of anxious children and some who self-harm," says Mrs Bombelli. "We have to highlight that we can't sort out some things that happened in the past. They might have had a traumatic time when they were 10, but now at 14 they are getting into trouble. When they do talk to you, it's about this thing that happened. We want them to learn to let it go or deal with it and move on."

      Around 80 per cent of the children live with kinship carers and large proportions come from families with mental health difficulties. Drug and alcohol abuse in the family is often behind referrals, but there can be other issues, such as one former pupil whose mother is a gambling addict. "He would come in on a Monday morning starving, because there was no money for food over the weekend," says Mrs Blee.

      The learning centres are not an answer to exclusion, say the mainstream and Ladywell staff; it is more complicated. It's to do with partnership working to improve the opportunities for youngsters.

      Mrs Bombelli confesses that, in the past, when she heard other teachers calling for disruptive children to be removed to allow the others to work, she resented it. "I used to think, `What a cheek. What about the disruptive child?' But I moved on - that was because there was not the plethora of support for children with behavioural difficulties. They were seen as bad. Now they are seen as troubled, and there are better options and more support for them."

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