This week: the dog who is the pupils' best friend

5th May 2006 at 01:00
This term we're tracking down the latest instalment in some of the great stories we've told in Friday magazine since 1998. Let us know if you'd like us to publish the latest twist in your tale.

This week: the dog who is the pupils' best friend

In November 2003 we brought you the story of Henry, the King Charles spaniel whose cuddly presence in the behaviour support unit transformed pupils' attitudes at Dronfield school, near Sheffield.

Appearing on the cover of Friday turned Henry into a canine superstar, with slots on Blue Peter and Richard and Judy, and countless photo shoots for magazines and newspapers. Steven Hastings's story also sparked a bumper postbag at The TES, with teachers keen to tell how their own classroom dogs were working wonders.

For Henry, it was several months before the media frenzy died down. When it did, like most former celebrities, he let himself go a bit. "He's grown very fat and lazy," says Julie Smart, the school counsellor, who takes Henry home each night.

But Henry's as popular as ever with the pupils. Indeed, shortly after the Friday story, Julie was worried that Henry might become a victim of his own celebrity. "There was a danger of him getting mobbed. No one would have hurt him on purpose, but Henry's not a big dog and the lads in the behaviour unit were quite boisterous!"

So Henry's job description was rewritten, with the result that he took a sideways step out of behaviour therapy into general counselling. He's gone part-time - just three days a week - and usually works with children on a one-to-one basis.

One of his most important jobs is acting as the school's agony uncle. Every week he gets around 30 emails from pupils wanting advice on personal matters, mostly along the lines of, "Hi Henry, hope you had a nice walk today. I'm having problems with my boyfriend..." Henry's replies are uncannily similar to the advice Julie herself would give. "The children know it's me," she laughs. "But they like the pretence. It gives them extra anonymity."

Henry may have a new role, but his qualities haven't changed: he offers unconditional love, and a chance for pupils to show their emotions without embarrassment.

"We have one child in foster care, who isn't attending school," says Julie.

"Henry comes with me to visit, and we all go to the park. It takes the pressure out of the situation; we're not having a formal talk, we're just walking the dog and having a chat."

Henry also visits local primaries, reassuring nervous Year 6 children that life at "big school" won't be too scary. "He's become part of the fabric of the place," says Julie. "Having Henry sends out the message that we're a friendly, fun and caring school."

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