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Workin' it out with cue cards

NEXT time they are tempted to launch into a blazing row with their teacher, pupils at an Essex school will be able to reach into their school bags for an additional weapon... the plastic cue card.

Arming youngsters with simple instructions on how to react to potentially confrontational situations is at the heart of a new project designed to address the underachievement and poor behaviour often associated with African-Caribbean pupils.

Entitled "Givin' It", "Takin' It" and "Workin' It Out", the cards have been devised by education lecturer Dr Tony Sewell, of Leeds University, as part of a new 10-week course that is designed to be used by teachers and their black pupils in personal and social education lessons.

The discussion-based programme derives from Dr Sewell's controversial belief that peer pressure and black youth culture, rather than racism, are chiefly to blame for the fact that black pupils continue to under-perform.

Youngsters who took part in a pilot at Canon Palmer Catholic school in Seven Kings, Essex, where 40 per cent of pupils are of African-Caribbean or Asian origin, said the course had helped them to express their opinions and control their emotions without aggression.

Alisha Gumbs, 15, said: "I feel I've got a little more self-control now. I'm able to communicate better and listen to what other people say."

Durin class, the Year 10 students were asked to watch a video or read text outlining a situation they may find themselves in and then discuss their possible responses.

Drama teacher Rob Salter, who guided the 13 pupils through the course, said: "We would ask the group for situations where they had taken criticism from someone in authority, for example, or where things hadn't worked out so well.

"The kids told how typically they didn't listen, became aggressive to that person or just didn't want to hear what that person had to say.

"The class would then read cards which suggested ways to give and receive criticism and handle conflict before trying the ideas out in improvised role play."

Dr Sewell said initial findings had shown a strong link between the students' pastoral needs and academic performance. He said: "Teachers tell me that they are fed up with experts pointing the finger at the underachievement of black pupils without telling them how to tackle it.

"I think PSE lessons provide the perfect platform for doing this. The answer is not to have endless black role models coming into the classroom, but to enable teachers, both black and white, to feel comfortable enough to sit down and talk about the very particular needs of their African-Caribbean pupils."

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