IT'S not a fun factory, but neither is it an educational penal colony, John Cairney writes.
"It" is "the inclusion zone" (TIZ) at St Maurice's High, Cumbernauld, whose founders can lay claim to having addressed the concept and practice of inclusion before the word achieved prominence.
The welcoming surroundings of today's TIZ have their origins in a storeroom first used in the mid-90s when the school became concerned by the number of children being excluded. It targets pupils who have been excluded, are on the verge of exclusion or who are disruptive in class.
The zone was funded by North Lanarkshire as part of the council's alternatives to exclusion initiative. There are areas for quiet study, informal discussion and information technology. It also has a private counselling room.
Hugh Page was a maths and learning support teacher before being appointed full-time to the zone. Work is thematic and topics are chosen in consultation with the pupils. These include science fiction, the assassination of President Kennedy, sport (especially boxing) and racism. The walls are decorated with written presentations, both historical and creative.
"It is not an easy option," Richie Greig, depute head, says. "The pupils follow a programme of work and must complete their assignments before there is any kind of relaxation."
During its first year there were 297 pupil attendances, counted on a daily basis. After the appointment of another full-time teacher, the figure rose to 734. "The increase is due to the proactive nature of TIZ and to greater acceptance by the staff of its benefits," Mr Page says. "We have moved away from waiting until exclusion takes place to anticipating a problem."
Ethel Gardner, a teacher of English and drama, says the unit is "an oasis", allowing children to detach themselves from their problems.
Mr Page says: "It is people who have the will to work in this area who will make the difference."