True stories

30th October 1998 at 00:00

CHALLENGING BEHAVIOUR: Principles and Practices. Edited by Dave Hewett. David Fulton Pounds 17.


Gary Thomas on two books with advice on how to deal with difficult children

In his first book, Interactionin Action, Dave Hewett described, with Melanie Nind, an original approach to developing communication with people with severe learning difficulties. In this new book, Challenging Behaviour,he sets out a fresh way of thinking about and handling behaviour that is difficult to manage.

Only a few years ago, most books about managing the behaviour of people with learning difficulties were theory-first cookbooks in which other matters - like the messiness of real life and the ethics of behaviour change - were given short shrift. This book, by contrast, begins with real life and, to quote Hewett, is about "trying to create environments where challenging behaviour is less likely".

The most pleasing thing about it is that it seems to start from the pupils and clients, and genuinely to respect them. At the same time, though, it offers principles for working - such as "stay calm", "get your priorities right", "have prepared mental structures for helping you to think and act". When Hewett says "be prepared to walk away", he is honest enough to describe a scene in which he did just this and the result was that the person with whom he was working threw furniture violently around the room. One can learn much more from the description of an incident like this than from some over-perfect case study. Hewett is to be congratulated on producing such an honest and useful book.

The authors of Effective Schooling for Pupils with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties start by offering a short review of the history and theory behind the separation and management of pupils with these difficulties. They move on to present the results of a research project funded by the Shotton Hall Trust which was aimed at identifying and disseminating good practice. The book offers a helpful snapshot of the state of provision in this area of special schooling, covering the expertise of staff, styles and methods of management, and the bricks-and-mortar provision typically made in these schools. It's a sympathetic account of the work of people who are doing a difficult job with few thanks.

In their different ways these books offer guidance to people doing what must be one of society's hardest jobs, and both are to be welcomed.

Gary Thomas is a professor of education at the University of the West of England, Bristol

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