Dynamite in small packages

16th March 2007 at 00:00
The youngest children may be the ones who lash out at teachers, says one authority that has created special units for them

THE TOPIC of violent pupils may conjure up images of out-of-control, knife-wielding teenagers, but it is the youngest who are lashing out.

Between August and October last year, Angus Council recorded 46 incidents of aggressive or violent behaviour towards staff, in-volving 19 primary pupils, 25 secondary and two parents. Most of the incidents involved aggressive posturing and language, but a few children lashed out physically and these tended to be the youngest.

Jan Nowak, senior education manager at Angus Council, says: "The majority of assaults tend to be very young children and nursery age who may kick out at a learning support teacher. Others may consistently refuse to do what they are told, or there may be different standards of acceptable behaviour at home compared with what is acceptable at school."

The authority has set up two small units within mainstream primary schools.

Andover Primary's unit in Brechin takes the P1-3s and Warddykes Primary's unit in Arbroath, the P4-7s. Warddykes is filled to capacity with six children, while Andover has three.

Each unit has a specially recruited teacher and two support for learning assistants. And far from the tantrums you might expect from having aggressive children in one place, Mr Nowak says they are calmer and better behaved because they receive greater attention.

The unit at Andover (in its second year) has almost a 100 per cent success rate for getting the younger children back into mainstream schooling within 18 months. "People were saying we have very young children out of control - biting and kicking - so we thought, let's take the same model as with all our special needs children, and develop provision within the school," he says.

Angus has no specialist schools. "When we were part of Tayside, it was decided there would be one or two large specialist centres in Dundee and a number of our children would travel there."

Since Angus Council was formed, the authority has taken a principled stand against children travelling long distances - developing, instead, specialist units within schools. Mr Nowak says Angus regards violent and aggressive children like any other children with special needs and will try to establish a curriculum for everyone where possible.

He is keen to stress that Angus's nine pupils in the units are a small minority out of the area's 9,500 pupils in 57 primaries, and will have been moved to the units only if all other intervention measures have been exhausted.

One reason for infants' problems could be communication difficulties. "If there is not much conversation at home, they may have a lack of experience of language and will find other ways to attract attention, such as through noise or being boisterous. Once they have grasped the norms of dealing with other folk, they can get back to mainstream," Mr Nowak says.

With older primary pupils, aggressive behaviour is more problematic. Some may have medical problems, such as attention deficit disorder. Or their aggression could belie a struggle to cope with the curriculum, which could be caused by undiagnosed learning difficulties. However, Mr Nowak accepts it is important to address the issue with a long-term view: "As they grow into adulthood they are going to have even more problems, so it is in our interests to get it right now."

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