Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Teaching respect in the classroom

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News, in Northampton

Nurture class eat breakfast
Breakfast is the vehicle for learning manners and self-respect

In a week-long series on respect in one English town, the BBC News website looks at efforts to promote respect in schools.

The education system is a key battleground for the respect agenda. Many of those expelled from school are those who go on to commit anti-social behaviour, and there are many that feel schools could do more to teach manners, citizenship and good behaviour.

In the Nurture classroom at Thorplands School in Northampton, there is a sign marked "10 Rules".

It says: "Use kind words, help when you can, share and take turns, listen to what others have to say, be honest and truthful, think before you speak out, remember your manners, control your temper, think about the feelings of others, and work and play fairly."

A more laudable list you would struggle to find, but unlike many public spaces in the UK, here these rules are enforced.

I've always taught him to have his manners, but it is enforced here
Christine Martin

The dozen children in the Nurture class are there because they are unable to learn effectively in normal lessons.

They have struggled with the most basic interaction with classmates and teachers.

In the class, they enjoy a set routine and structure to their morning, always starting with breakfast.

For some the toast and marmite or cereal is the second breakfast of the day, for others the first, but for all of the children the emphasis is on being polite and well-behaved in a comfortable setting.

Bobby and Elizabeth are painstakingly laying the table for breakfast, their brows furrowed with concentration.

Once breakfast begins, there is much "may I please have the butter please" and "can I get up now and play please". When the child doesn't ask properly, or doesn't ask at all, they are gently corrected.

Supportive parents

Headmistress Mary Slaymaker says: "Fifty years ago when I was this age you always sat at the table for breakfast, you sat at table every meal. You didn't leave the table until you asked. That is how it was for most people.

"Now people work different hours and shifts, there isn't a pattern to the day. Years ago I used to go home every lunchtime. You felt secure."

Christine Martin is one of the many dutiful parents keen to support the class. Her son Daniel, six, is one of those chomping on marmite and toast.

Smiling child
Many children enjoy rapid progress and return to ordinary classes

"I've noticed a difference in his behaviour. He is more considerate, he listens. He used to completely ignore you.

"I've always taught him to have his manners, but it is enforced here.

"They need a set routine. If you control them at this stage, when they become teenagers they might be a little bit more understanding."

Olan Orefuja, a Nigerian immigrant, says daughter Bolaji has changed rapidly.

"There have been a lot of changes. Before she started she couldn't communicate properly. She had speech difficulties.

"She found it hard to remember when you told her to do something, she would do something else. Now you can ask her something and she would do it quickly."

Targeted area

The Thorplands area of Northampton is one of the town's poorer districts. Ms Slaymaker says that out of the county's 314 schools, Thorplands has the 312th most deprived catchment area.

The area has been targeted as part of the drive against anti-social behaviour.

Ms Slaymaker adds: "A lot of the families we deal with, the children have poor social skills and that relates to the parenting being not as we would like it.

Breakfast things
Structure and routine are of vital importance

"A lot of work with the children will be on behaviour to one another. We also work with the parents."

Some of the children at the school have troubled backgrounds. On the wall of the classroom are the results of an exercise in describing feelings. One pupil has written: "I feel sad in my tummy."

In the school, some children come from backgrounds that are slightly chaotic to say the least.

Ms Slaymaker recalls one pupil with a poor punctuality record, who arrived on time on the first day of a free fruit initiative in order to get a banana, having broken out of her own home.

Righting damage

Marion Bennathan is a guru to those who run Nurture classes.

The concept started in 1969 to help the children of immigrants from Jamaica.

"These children were not mad or bad by birth.

"You can put a lot of the damage right - 80% of the kids can go back to their mainstream class.

Child raises his hand to speak
No child is allowed to talk over another, and Ps and Qs are enforced

"Respect is essential and so is emotional intelligence."

Ms Bennathan says the classes should form a key part of Tony Blair's action on respect and get more money from central government.

"There is a cost, but you know what it costs to keep a child in a secure unit. A Nurture group place only costs 3,000.

"Once a school gets a nurture class, they stop referring to the behaviour support service.

"Respect is central to this. Any survey of delinquents shows their self-esteem is lousy."

Across town, at the Unity College in Kingsthorpe, older children are attending an Enrichment class.

There is a large citizenship element to the class, which is taken by all pupils, with one class featuring discussion on how to behave in the workplace.

Liz Jones is the head of Enrichment at Unity and emphasises that pupils are not given a list of rules to stick to outside school.

Instead, a topic like behaviour towards the public on buses is brought up and the class invited to reflect on it.

Complicated web

A typical segment started by asking: "Would you like it if somebody came into your garden and chopped your beautiful roses down?".

On occasion debate is conducted using a ball of string that is passed from one speaker to the next, so the classroom soon becomes a complicated web.

The anti-social behaviour agenda has come directly to the classroom, with community wardens speaking.

Other topics have included the issue of lone parents and graffiti.

Ms Jones adds: "They make up the rules. They get to choose what they do.

"They are quite enthusiastic. Enrichment is the only lesson that doesn't have an exam.

"It give them a bit of breathing space and a chance to think."

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