Therapy wins a place in class

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
A Bristol secondary says its emotionally literate curriculum is improving behaviour. Michael Shaw reports.

Massage and conflict resolution classes are among the activities a Bristol secondary school says are helping its pupils become more relaxed and better behaved.

Staff at John Cabot CTC in Kingswood believe the school's unique curriculum demonstrates that "emotional literacy" has a place in the classroom, despite claims to the contrary by academics.

In their first year, pupils collect stamps from their teachers in a blue booklet known as their "competence passport".

The Year 7 pupils are expected to gain at least one stamp for 70 skills, which are grouped into broad topics including conflict management, learning styles, risk-taking, communication and teamwork.

They learn stress management skills including breathing techniques and how to massage themselves, and give head and shoulder massages to others.

David Carter, John Cabot's principal, said the school wanted to develop pupils' EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, as well as their IQ.

"We want children to learn to relate to other people and to work in groups," he said. "We know it leads to improved behaviour, and I've not heard any reports this year of bullying in that year group."

Grace Jeremy, aged 13, said the competency passport system had helped her overcome her shyness and work better in teams.

She said that massage techniques the pupils had learned included rubbing their left and right ear-lobes. "It gets the left and right side of your brain working, and it's relaxing," she said.

Mr Carter said the "Cabot Competency Curriculum" for Year 7 pupils, which it is encouraging other schools to imitate, was part of a campaign by the school to personalise the curriculum.

He sends each pupil a card on their birthday, which he signs at home at the weekend while watching football on the television.

The use of emotional literacy in education was criticised after it emerged the Department for Education and Skills had signed up 50 schools to try out its social and emotional aspects of learning scheme in secondary schools.

The project, in which pupils are taught to express their emotions and respect each other's feelings, was credited with cutting truancy and improving behaviour in primary schools where it was piloted. All primary heads in England were sent information on the scheme during the summer.

Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at Kent university, and Kathryn Ecclestone, a lecturer at Exeter university, were among those to complain that teachers were being turned into therapists.

But the National Union of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association said that emotional literacy was an important skill and that the Government should ensure there was space for it in the national curriculum.

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said: "Schools have always tried to help children grow up with a good emotional understanding of the people around them."

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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