US guru called in after shooting

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Expert who has worked amid the guns and gangs of Chicago helps Nottingham school to pick up the pieces. Graeme Paton reports

A saviour of American schools blighted by guns and gangs is being hired to transform an inner-city comprehensive, less than a year after one of its pupils was shot dead in the street.

Dr Jerome Freiberg has been asked to help tackle underachievement at Elliott Durham comprehensive, Nottingham, the school attended by 14-year-old Danielle Beccan. The teenager was fatally shot in the stomach last October as she walked home from a fun fair.

Dr Freiberg's arrival as a consultant at the school, which has been dogged by high truancy and poor exam results, follows his success at a neighbouring comprehensive in the city.

"Staff and pupils have had a difficult time because of the shooting: we hope the discipline programme will stabilise the school and give it a new sense of direction," said Graham Chapman, Nottingham council's education spokesman.

In September, Dr Freiberg, from Houston university, introduced his behaviour scheme, Consistency Management and Co-operative Discipline, at Haywood school, also in Nottingham.

Haywood had recently come out of special measures and in less than a year Dr Freiberg's programme, which centres around giving "jobs" to pupils, including taking the register and being responsible for equipment, has helped it become one of the 200 most improved in the country.

Truancy rates have dropped by two-thirds and it now has the most improved attendance record in the city. The number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs is expected to reach 40 per cent this summer compared to 17 per cent three years ago, behaviour has been praised by inspectors and the school has a settled teaching workforce.

"This is not rocket science, it is simply about giving children ownership and responsibility for the school," said Jill Hislop, Haywood's headteacher, who has been trained in CMCD methods and will also act as a consultant at Elliott Durham.

"When someone says a school has discipline problems it is normally only a very small proportion of the children who are involved, but if it is not tackled it quickly accelerates. We have simply set boundaries for our pupils and instilled more pride in the school."

Dr Freiberg, who recently visited Elliott Durham, has made a career out of transforming schools crippled by drug, gun and gang violence problems. His methods have so far been employed at 170 schools in the United States, including in Los Angeles, New York state and Chicago.

A study showed that schools using the programme in Chicago had improved their English test results by 23 per cent and maths by 42 per cent. Other schools in the city improved by just 4 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.

Elliott Durham was praised by Ofsted in 2003 for pupil behaviour, but truancy was said to be too high and academic standards are low, with only 18 per cent of pupils gaining five Cs or better at GCSE last year.

Mike Edwards, the chair of governors, said in a ballot 96 per cent of staff had voted to adopt the programme.

A group of teachers will now be travelling to Houston for training. But Linda Jordan, Nottingham branch secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who opposed Dr Freiberg's intervention at Haywood school, said:

"There is no doubt that morale at Elliott Durham suffered in the wake of the shooting, but anything as drastic as that is always going to have an effect on a community and the local school.

"Things have started to improve since and I don't see how this American is going to improve things further."

* Two men have been charged with Danielle Beccan's murder.


The Freiberg philosophy

Jerome Freiberg's philosophy is remarkably simple: give the pupils more responsibility and they will want their school to succeed, rather than fail.

The American academic's discipline programme, first launched in America more than 10 years ago, suggests pupils get involved in a number of tasks including:

* Taking the register

* Acting as a "welcome" to visitors

* Mentoring younger pupils

* Monitoring the playground

* Assisting supply teachers

* Keeping a check on equipment.

The schools draw up a disciplinary code setting out "dos and don'ts" and the punishments for stepping out of line. Rewards are given to recognise outstanding effort.

Dr Freiberg said that a seven-year study of his programme in the US had shown that by adopting it pupils can gain up to two weeks' extra teaching time a year.

He said: "It allows students to become citizens, when previously they were tourists. England has a lot of tourists, but they are just passing through; they don't take ownership or responsibility for the country, they do not vote for your officials.

"In many schools students, too, are tourists in the same way, they don't feel like part of the fabric, they are just passing through.

"This is about giving children ownership of their classroom, so that things that interfere with learning are no longer acceptable."

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