When all else fails

26th January 2001 at 00:00
What do you do when a child constantly disrupts a class? As the Scottish Executive demands more children be retained in mainstream schools, controlling troublesome pupils becomes a real problem for everyone.

Raymond Ross looks at two solutions.

Danny McGrorry, headteacher of Greenview Primary in Glasgow, says: "If you give the right support, the right strategies, most children can be maintained in mainstream schools, but there will always be a need for quality schools to tackle the problems of pupils like ours."

Greenview is a special school for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Its family liaison social worker, Liz Towers, is equally emphatic that its 34 pupils could not hope to learn effectively in a mainstream school no matter how well they were supported. "I feel strongly we will always need separateprovision." she says.

That said, Greenview's aim is to get the pupils back into mainstream education where possible. On average, says Mr McGrorry, pupils attend for 18 months to two years: 65 per cent return to regular schools; the rest go on to speech and language units and day and residential schools for moderate learning difficulties.

The Greenview staff dismiss any talk of "sin bins" or "bad" children. Mr McGrorry points out that some of the pupils are in foster care or in children's homes; they may be living with grandparents or be adopted; some are on medication (Ritalin) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ; some have been seriously abused.

"A lot of these children have the right to be angry with the things that have been done to them, but they have to learn to express anger in a socially acceptable way. We set very high standards here," he says, "but you have to remember that in some of these kids' lives, the teachers here will be the most - or only - consistent and positive source of care."

At a Friday class assembly pupils are being awarded badges and certificates for achieving individual weekly personal targets, such as not hitting people, concentrating on their work, or ignoring silly behaviour by others.

Childen are referred to Greenview through psychological services. Some come straight from nursery school.

"The majority present as difficult, aggressive and violent, distressed and disengaged and a number of exclusions have usually taken place. Mainstream colleagues make a great effort to keep them, but if a child is not able to learn, is not able to access the curriculum effectively, then that will usually involve the disruption of other pupils' learning and that's the really important thing," says Mr McGrorry.

"We have an open-door policy here and we aim to support the families in order to support the child. We don't blame parents for the way their kids are and when families agree to support our strategies - we discuss the admissions conference minutes with them - we begin to make important progress with the child."

Once Greenview decides to admit a child, an individual education programme is drawn up . "Parents are often relieved their child is getting the help and attention they need," says Mr McGrorry.

Greenview follows the mainstream 5-14 curriculum but teaching is detailed, based on each pupil's programme. Classes are composite and the eacher pupil ratio is 1:6 (1:5 for infants).

"First and foremost, class size helps as it allows relationships to develop. Teachers can gain a fuller understanding of the child and you can establish rapid links with the home.

"You can communicate success to families and it's great to see the pressure fall away from them."

Pupil profiles covering their learning styles and social interaction skills are updated every term and as with "smart targets", success is reinforced at every turn.

For 15 minutes a day, the children do exercises for dyspraxia, "because every child benefits whether they're dyspraxic or not," says Mr McGrorry. A lot of the pupils are. Compact disc players play music to set moods andcreate a positive ambience.Playground activities are structured at all times and staff take their lunch with the pupils. "The children are supervised from the minute they board the bus in the morning," says Mr McGrorry.

It is obvious that Greenview is a model of best practice and the staff are nothing if not dedicated, but Mr McGrorry is particular about the definition of success. "We set out aims for each placement; to raise the child's self-esteem, for example. If that happens, then we've done what we set out to do. These aims are specified at the admissions conference.

"If a child fails later, then that is not related to us. The majority who go back into mainstream do survive there. But you can't guarantee they won't experience other difficulties."

Lorraine Forrester, a parent, says Greenview has changed her life and her son's. "My son just couldn't cope in mainstream. He lacked confidence. School was too big. He thought he was a failure and a 'bad' boy. Now he knows he's just a child with problems.

"He's much happier now and his confidence is growing. He even went to the panto this year. Before he wouldn't have been able to handle a crowd as big as that.

"I wasn't coping and I couldn't understand why he was behaving the way he was at school. But now I feel supported and I can work with him better. I feel a better person too."

Ms Towers comments: "Most of our parents feel guilty and de-skilled when their kids come here. You need to build parents' confidence as well as the child's."

Lorna Stewart, the support co-ordinator, and Val Murawska, a support teacher, provide an outreach service for schools in south Glasgow. They offer a six-week programme based on classroom observation, offering strategies which the schools can implement to help keep the pupils in mainstream education.

"We do not go into schools to assess pupils to come here. Our remit is not to change a pupil's behaviour but to make recommendations to teachers. " Teacher feedback has been so positive that a support strategy pack is being developed by Greenview for mainstream use. It will be published by Glasgow's special educational needs department later this year. Much of it has been based on Mr McGrorry's research.

"The pack quantifies challenging behaviour to enable the teacher to prioritise," he explains. "It gives specific instructions on matters such as boosting self-esteem and relationships within the classroom. The department wants to develop this as a preventative strategy, one of many the city is pursuing."

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