Mimics convert the excluded

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
A school is showing badly-behaved pupils the error of their ways by sending them to an arts centre where actors mimic their behaviour.

The Windsor boys' secondary used its specialist school funding to save its local arts centre and establish a learning support unit there.

Now excluded pupils and students at risk of exclusion from all over the town are studying a reduced curriculum at the unit in Windsor arts centre while also working with artists.

One pupil was asked to show Naomi Jackson, the drama teacher at the unit, how he had acted in an aggressive confrontation with a teacher on the rugby field which led to his exclusion. Then he showed her how to imitate his attitude.

Ms Jackson said: "He saw that he had got so angry that the teacher had to get him out. Until then, he didn't really understand because he didn't have that self-awareness.

"It gave him the chance to look at himself from the outside."

Students also work in groups, acting as the aggressor, the victim and an observer to help them develop more objectivity and empathy.

A professional theatre group, Everyday Theatre, which consists of former pupils, is resident at the school and works in the learning support unit.

An arts therapist also helps students in the unit to express their problems and a street dancer builds up their discipline, concentration and capacity for hard work.

Jane Turner is the teacher in charge of the Starts project, which stands for Supportive Training and Arts.

She said: "It's about using the arts to develop social skills as well as anger management, rather than just trying to make them good at drama or art." Actors also work in the main school site to engage the boys'

imagination in subjects such as physics, and prevent disaffection.

The creation of the learning support unit was inspired by a sixth-form student, who forced the school to rethink earlier plans to become a sports college and opt for the performing arts instead.

He pointed out that the arts centre was threatened with closure and urged the school to save it. It now receives pound;37,000 a year from the school's specialist funding.

"I've got a senior management team of 10 and pay them an absolute fortune, but it took one of the sixth form to come up with this brilliant idea," said Jeff Dawkins, the headteacher.

"These are pupils who would be dumped by most schools," he said. "They are encouraged by the artists to work out what brought them to the learning support unit."

Office for Standards in Education inspectors said in 2003 that behaviour at the school was generally good.

It said the school made every effort to keep disaffected pupils in mainstream education and praised the arts centre's work.

Mr Dawkins said measuring the progress of students at the unit was the main stumbling block, although some were able to return to school.

He wanted to use an educational psychologist but none was available.

He was speaking at a conference for schools organised by the Specialist Schools Trust on its Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning programme.

It aims to allow schools which are outwardly successful but which have low value-added scores to adopt the practices of some of the most effective schools.

In the first year, schools in the programme improved at three times the national rate, according to the trust.

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