THE ABERDEENSHIRE EXPERIENCE
Pauline Buchan, depute head at Fraserburgh Academy, was the support group leader for her cluster - one of four in her authority. She is not running the programme now because of staffing restrictions but plans to do so again next year.
The school became involved after its support for learning teachers attended a course run by Joan Mowat. They were so excited by it that before the day's CPD was finished, they phoned the school to say: "We've got to get involved with this."
Fraserburgh ran two S2 groups and Mrs Buchan coordinated with its associated primary, which ran a P6-7 group. She feels the support group was particularly beneficial to one pupil who was posing problems in primary but has made a successful move into secondary and forged good relationships with other pupils.
Dr Mowat's advice had been that when starting something like this, it was better not to focus on those who were "top-of-the-tree challenging". Pupils in the first S2 group were exhibiting low-level disruptive behaviour, but Mrs Buchan felt able to run a second group with more challenging children, as the school had some experienced behaviour support staff.
Mrs Buchan's data show that behaviour sanctions have gone down. Children are calmer and more focused; they have a better understanding of teachers' feelings.
Pupils realise now that teachers are "getting at them because they care", she says.
"This programme was not just looking at a child and their behaviour, but their learning too, and the behaviour seems to improve as a result of this deep metacognition about how they learn, what works with them and their relationships with teachers. It's very restorative in its approach," she says.
Ideally, she would like to have more staff available to run this kind of programme - and to run it for longer than 16-18 weeks.
"I felt it could go much longer in all of the activities," she said.
SMALL STEPS TOWARDS ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR
Jane*, P6, is one of seven children in a family which has had a number of difficulties, including police involvement. She had been disruptive in class, albeit at a low level, and was not achieving her potential. Her teacher had found her opinionated and insensitive to the feelings of others and she had been placed on detention on a number of occasions.
Despite her support group leader's concerns that Jane would not engage, she proved to be an active participant. There were some issues, however, with timetabling, as attendance at the group meant Jane could not take part in assembly. Her support group leader observed that Jane could see that someone was trying to help her - and not in a negative way. It was, "How we can we help one another to sort this?"
Although her class teacher didn't feel that Jane took target-setting seriously, her support group leader could see "chinks of light". She still experienced some difficulties in modifying her behaviour, but fewer sanctions were being applied.
Significantly, she showed a willingness to address her problems - "a huge first step", says her support group leader. She also showed a greater understanding of her relationships with friends and family.
She is now less insolent and talkative in class and less likely to fight with other children. Her class teacher still finds her immature and self- absorbed but feels that, with further intervention, improvement will come.
* Not her real name
THE FALKIRK EXPERIENCE
Nick Balchin, principal educational psychologist at Falkirk Council, reports a marked improvement in pupil attendance as one of the main outcomes of the support group project, which ran in two school clusters.
Non-attendance on 10-plus days dropped from 31 per cent before participation in the programme to 18 per cent afterwards.
"They have been able to engage more positively in school and the staff involved have enjoyed it," he told TESS.
He sees parallels between Joan Mowat's work and "the big six" approaches for promoting positive behaviour identified and recommended by Education Scotland:
- Framework for interventionstaged intervention - a peer-support approach;
- Nurture groups - intended to offset negative environmental factors for young children who find it hard to fit in at the early stages, although this approach is being adopted increasingly at secondary as well;
- Restorative approaches - based on restorative justice principles;
- The Motivated School - a theoretical framework to sharpen thinking on learner motivation;
- The Solution Oriented approach - flexible, co-operative and consistent solution-finding.
- Being Cool in School - a programme for delivering emotional literacy and teaching pro-social behaviour to young people.