Unity lacking on emotional difficulties

Officials are calling for an educational rescue code, a once-ailing school breathes again and evidence mounts that discipline problems begin young. Meanwhile, opinion is divided over how to tackle problem children.

Many teachers resent the attention paid to pupils with behavioural problems and want more counselling and support themselves, according to a new study from the University of Greenwich.

Teachers also tend to have a lower opinion of the effectiveness of other professionals - one-third of teachers surveyed made "very negative" comments about administrators and advisers - complaining that they failed to understand the realities of life in the classroom.

The recently completed research, which covered the Kent area, set out to discover whether the incidence of emotional and behavioural difficulties really is increasing, and to examine attitudes to EBDs among the different people involved - teachers, educational psychologists, governors, local authorities and parents.

Surprisingly few comments were made about the importance of teaching and access to the curriculum as a means of ameliorating behavioural problems, and those who did remark on it tended not to be teachers. Both teachers and governors said they wanted more training and information about EBDs and special needs.

Some parents of pupils attending Pupil Referral Units after exclusion from school expressed "acute distress" about their children's educational prospects, confounding the stereotype of parental fecklessness. Parents were also "overwhelmingly critical" of the schools that had excluded their children, pointing to delays in assessing their problems, but were generally satisfied with the PRUs. Most parents concluded their questionnaires by asking where they could get help for their children.

The researchers found that, overall, more schools were resorting to exclusion as a sanction. They identified a rise in primary exclusions, though it was "too small to be statistically significant". However, primary teachers expressed more anxiety about the increase in behavioural problems than secondary teachers.

There is also some evidence that grant-maintained schools are more likely to exclude and less likely to admit children who have a history of bad behaviour - a finding which is at odds with Department for Education and Employment data on exclusion due to be published next week.

They also found that with boys aged11-15 there was a tendency to focus exclusively on behaviour, rather than any possible underlying emotional problems.

But hard evidence on whether increasing numbers of exclusions in the Kent area are due to increasing numbers of children showing emotional and behavioural difficulties or other factors is less clear.

Researcher Pam Maras, a senior lecturer in social sciences at Greenwich, says that gathering reliable data on exclusions proved almost impossible because the criteria differed from school to school, and data-collection systems are incompatible. Apparent trends, she says, should therefore be treated with caution.

The report recommends that professionals dealing with EBDs should work more closely together, that a training programme for teachers and governors should be introduced, along with a standard technique for identifying EBDs and improved data-collection systems.

Children and Young People with EBDs - Toward a Preventative Service in Kent. By Pam Maras, Claire Hall and Terry Redmayne.

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