Beverly Radley, teacher turned reflexologist, tells Adi Bloom how schools are feeling the benefit
Beverly Radley went into teaching to make a difference to children - it's taken her 12 years to do it and she had to leave the classroom first.
Last Christmas, tired of the constant battle to keep up with curriculum demands, 34-year-old Ms Radley decided to look outside teaching for ways to provide pastoral care. Now, two schools - Southey Green primary in Sheffield and Willowgarth high school in Barnsley - employ her as a consultation reflexologist to help pupils with behaviour problems.
She had felt frustrated for some time before the career change. As a technology teacher in a Luton secondary, she felt confronted by a stream of ever-changing faces. She moved to primary, but found that the introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies left her little time for creativity. "Children would bring in things for me to look at," she says, "and I would have to say, 'How lovely, now go into your maths set'. I felt that I had to be this all-singing, all-dancing person at the front of the class all the time. I couldn't talk to the children. I didn't have time to get to know them properly."
The turning point came outside the classroom: "One day, I saw one of the boys with problems coming out of school, and his face was so angry. And I thought, what did we do for him? What difference did we make for him? That's when I started my quest for something else."
The school secretary at her Sheffield primary had just done a course in reflexology. Ms Radley had always been interested in alternative therapies and had experienced acupuncture and Reiki treatments, so she decided to try a similar course. Then she did a practitioners' course, training on the job at the same time. She continued to teach part-time while doing the second course and beginning to practise, but felt that the two careers were incompatible. As a teacher, she was forbidden from physical contact with pupils; as a reflexologist, she was used to helping children through touch. "You're in loco parentis, and no parent would watch an upset child and not put their arm around them. But we're not allowed to do that," she said.
A friend worked at Southey Green, which serves a deprived area of Sheffield. Headteacher Joe Dunn wanted to use a recent pound;500 professional development grant to help his most challenging pupils. "I believe in thinking outside the box and I thought these relaxation techniques were worth a try," he says. The work with Southey Green prompted Ms Radley to make the move into full-time practice, and word of mouth led to the Willowgarth booking. She now sees each of her 13 school-based pupils for 30 minutes to an hour a fortnight, depending on the child's age. As with her private clients, each session opens with a chat, after which she massages the child's feet, hands and head, rubbing them softly in small circles.
Reflexology treats the entire body by massaging nerve endings in the feet to tap into "body systems", such as the lungs, kidney and liver. Ms Radley uses a technique that focuses on the spinal reflexes. Her massages pick up stress patterns in the spine and help her patients to release emotional tension.
She has seen pupils' attendance and attitude to learning improve with regular treatments. One 14-year-old girl, who had been awarded only two "positivity slips" in three years under her school's reward scheme, has collected nine slips in one term since starting reflexology. Another girl, also 14, began treatment with no aims or career aspirations. After eight weeks, she was planning to become a marine biologist.
For many children, the benefits lie not only in the physical treatment, but in the opportunity to relax, sit in silence and collect their thoughts. Ms Radley finds some also respond well to merely being questioned about their lives.
For her, this is the most rewarding aspect, and the reason she became a teacher: the ability to give a child with problems the individual attention necessary for change. She has seen her school-based patients begin to consider alternatives to aggression and resentment, and realise that they can affect others' attitudes.
She is not the only one to notice the difference. "The children are more focused, more relaxed and able to concentrate for longer," says Mr Dunn. "And they enjoy the sessions - they're disappointed when they're over. Anything that makes school a calming, safe place for kids to be is welcome."
Beverly Radley: email@example.com