5. A Quiet Place - Speke Garston Partnership, Liverpool
A project to provide emotional and therapeutic support in primary schools through the establishment of a safe environment in which a variety of types of counselling and therapy are provided to children and parents from families in crisis. By the early diagnosis and treatment of vulnerable children, the project aims to minimise inappropriate behaviour, classroom disruption, and the eventual risk of temporary or permanent exclusion, improving attainment by inclusion in education.
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- In tackling the problems of children at risk, there is real value in the use of techniques that integrate emotional issues arising from domestic circumstances, with measures to tackle impediments to educational performance.
- The creation of a partnership between schools, the local education authority, a University and the SRB Partnership has been instrumental in devising structures capable of tackling these problems.
- This project shows how a partnership between child, parent and educational establishments can help deal with non-educational issues.
- There appears to be value in incorporating new complementary techniques into this field to support the conventional routes involving educational welfare and child psychologists - which are often insufficient.
- The introduction of a hard and rigorous evaluation process for 'soft' outcomes will help furnish the evidence that will support the extension of the scheme into the mainstream.
- At an average cost of less than £700 per pupil benefiting, this appears to offer a low cost alternative to established techniques, and thus good value-for-money.
The Speke Garston area of Liverpool in which this project is located is characterised by high levels of unemployment and poverty, compounded by poor housing and health. Poor socio-economic conditions and the family stress with which they are often associated inevitably affect children's ability to learn. The SRB Partnership has identified the following issues of specific relevance to this project.
How the Project was Developed
- A high proportion of children in the area are statemented or have been diagnosed as having additional needs.
- Almost a quarter of the area's children are at some stage in the local education authority's disciplinary or support mechanisms.
- There is limited commitment to education among parents, a high level of condoned non-attendance and no embedded culture of education.
- There is a very high proportion of lone parents, many of whom have real difficulties coping with children, in some leading to and compounded by benefit traps, poverty and drug abuse;
- Educational and other resources are inflexible and inadequate to target need: many teachers feel that the National Curriculum is too prescriptive to meet the needs of these children and educational attainment issues;
- There is only limited access to psychological services when required by schools.
The idea was originally proposed to the LEA's early years behaviour Senior Adviser by one of the area's primary schools. The school was experiencing severe behavioural problems with some of its pupils, for whom existing conventional approaches were ineffective. The thinking behind the project also coincided with a study being undertaken by John Moores University (JMU), looking at behaviour problems among 3-5 year-olds in disadvantaged areas. The project began as a pilot in one primary school in early 1998, and project now operates in slightly different ways in two schools.
The Project provides three related sets of counselling and other kinds of support.
- With children
Children thought to be in need of support are placed on the programme for a six-week period in which each child receives, each week, three forty minute one to one sessions with therapists. The therapy can take a variety of forms, including talking, foot, hand or head massage, and even aromatherapy. The intention is to assist children, by a variety of methods, to develop their own strategies for coping with the circumstances in which they find themselves.
The therapy through play takes place in a 'quiet room', a former class room which has been decorated and laid out in a pleasant, warm relaxing way to look as little like a class room as is possible.
In addition to one to one activities, the children can also bring their friends in on some occasions, and story and circle time activities are conducted in the room to allow a wider range of children to take advantage of the room's ambience.
Many children only need one six-week programme. In other cases children can have the period extended, or even return for a further six-week session. In one case a child who has moved on to a secondary school returns for weekly sessions.
Children are selected where:
Support is given:
- they display difficulties of social adjustment, or the signs of emotional or behavioural problems;
- pupils' introverted or extroverted behaviour is of concern to staff.
A clear aim of the project is to reduce the number of children who receive temporary or permanent exclusions.
- to all children at stage 2/3 of the LEA's code of practice for discipline and
- in exceptional circumstances of trauma at home or school;
- for newly referred pupils where intervention, in order to be effective, must be immediate.
- With parents
Many of the parents in these families are also suffering high levels of stress that militates against their performing adequately as parents. Parents are invited into the programme both to discuss the problems of their children and to take advantage of massage and other available techniques to assist with their own problems.
Whilst a parent's participation in the project is not essential no work will be undertaken without their consent and support. Project staff feel strongly that this project cannot take place in isolation but must take place alongside the primary carer who spends most of their time with the child.
- With teachers
All teachers within the schools have been encouraged to take advantage of the facilities and support available, both to assist them with their own high levels of stress but also so that they fully understand the advantages of the programme and can therefore choose children who will genuinely benefit.
Total Project Costs
Revenue: £40,000 p.a. (SRB £30,000, schools £5,000 each in contributions in-kind)
Outcomes and Achievements
The full programme has only been running for a year, and it is inevitably premature therefore to make judgments about its eventual impact. However the early indicators are extremely positive and the programme has been welcomed enthusiastically by all the teachers and parents involved. About 30 children from each of the two schools have undertaken at least one of the six-week programmes, but a larger number has benefited indirectly through the collective use of 'quiet room' facilities. The head teachers have estimated that perhaps 80 per cent of those participating have displayed real improvements in behaviour and the ability to cope. In one of the schools the head thought that the scheme had helped prevent the exclusion of at least five children.
JMU are undertaking a rigorous evaluation of the programme (which it is hoped will be extended to other schools in the area). The first full-year evaluation is expected shortly and consists of three factors.
- The Boxall Development Strands
This technique is based on a standardised procedure developed on a large cohort of children supported through Nurture Groups in London. The strands are based on five factors.
The trend for the pilot group as a whole was positive. Of the seven children involved in the pilot, four showed considerable gains, two made slight regressions, which emphasised the need for a longer period within the programme, and one made limited gains where the problem was thought to be with the peer group.
- Organisation of experience
- Internalisation of controls
- Self limiting features
- Undeveloped behaviour
- Unsupported development
- With parents
Of the parents whose children were involved:
- five thought the programme had been very positive
- one thought the programme slightly positive
- one did not respond
- With teachers
Teachers thought that there had been improvements in all seven cases, with four showing slight improvements and three showing considerable improvements.
The critical issues concern how far the improvements survive (and particularly the transition to secondary school), and how far they feed through into improved levels of educational attainment. However, the results so far are highly impressive given the extreme pressures under which many of the children concerned are forced to live.
Example of achievement
One of the children who has participated in the programme lives with his single mother. According to his teachers, he used to be a major cause of disruption in class - which they attributed to the stress of his home life. His mother had to cope with continued domestic violence - and the child was aware of the fact. Attendance at the quiet room sessions has helped the child adjust to and cope with these appalling pressures.
Tel: 0151 494 2777
Fax: 0151 494 4230