Stress busters

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Pupils at Claremont primary school in Blackpool have a healing touch - for each other. It's a school where many children are troubled and unsettled when they arrive. Until a few years ago that meant all the associated behaviour problems.

"Then in 1998, The TES ran a piece on the first 'Quiet Place' started in Liverpool by Penny Moon," says Claremont's headteacher, Pat Wills.

"An initial telephone contact led to a fascinating link with Penny and the work of the Cheiron Trust, and Claremont's quiet place, named Xanadu, was born."

Strategies offered in Xanadu include aromatherapy, hand and foot massage, and sandplay.

The school's staff were trained in teaching the children how to massage each other and gradually the children became less angry and more understanding of each other.

It's fully-clothed peer massage - in this case, strictly child-to-child - and covers head, shoulders and back, always limited to exactly what the recipient wants.

Claremont, with 600 pupils, is in one of the 10 per cent most deprived wards in the country, with pupil mobility sometimes reaching 40 per cent.

"The transient population are often fleeing significant personal and family tragedies," says Mrs Wills. "They see Blackpool as the answer to all their dreams, often as the result of a memorable family holiday which they think they will be able to re-create.

"In real terms, we have already - by September 14 - enrolled an additional 18 children since September 6, half a class. In one academic year this is equivalent to four brand new classes of children joining the school and three and a half classes leaving."

Now, she says, the school is a calmer place, and not just in the classroom and playground. Mrs Wills and her staff have adopted the techniques themselves, using peer massage before staff meetings covering fraught issues such as league tables and Sats. But the concrete improvement to the children's life is measurable, she says. "We have children who have been very angry and are now able to manage that anger themselves. Some of them would have had to leave and go to special schools. This has helped to keep them in mainstream schooling."

Carol Trower, a former health visitor, is British co-ordinator of Misp - the massage in schools programme now adopted by 1,000 or so schools in the country. A two-day Misp massage training course for a teacher costs pound;220.

"The success of peer massage with children is firmly rooted in the neurological system," says Ms Trower. "Massage increases output of serotonin, the contentment hormone, and of oxytocin, the bonding hormone that also releases stress. It calms children down and increases the feel-good factor. It teaches them respect for themselves and others. It is the child's body and it is up to the child to decide who touches it. It teachesthem they have responsibilities as well as rights. We can all bang on about our rights, but we have responsibilities to our friends too."

Massage in Schools Tel: 07773 044282; www.massageinschools.com For more about the work of the Cheiron Trust, visit www.cheiron-quietplace.com

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