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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 17:55 GMT
Best school offers 'safety net'
Phil Rodgers
Phil Rodgers: head of the most improved school
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

The most improved primary school in England is to open a special unit for pupils on the verge of being excluded.

Dalton Foljambe Junior and Infants, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, is to have places for 10 pupils from local schools who are believed to be at risk of being removed from school.

The project, which will open in the new year, will see 10 and 11 year old children taking part in a scheme first developed for disruptive secondary school pupils.

The pupils who will attend this "centre for learning", at a school applauded as the most improved in this year's league tables, will have behavioural problems which seemed to be putting them on the path to exclusion.
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris says such learning centres provide another option in handling difficult pupils

But by spending half of each school day for two terms at the Dalton Foljambe unit, it is hoped that the pupils will be able to overcome their disruptive behaviour and return to mainstream classes.

School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said that such centres were an innovative way of intervening without resorting to excluding pupils.

"You sometimes need to take children out of lessons, but you don't necessarily want to take them away from their schools," she said.

"This scheme for pupils who might be at risk of exclusion provides another option for schools," said the minister.

The government has been pressing for a reduction in exclusions - but has had to "clarify" that schools can remove pupils who pose a threat to the safety of teachers, pupils or themselves.

Inclusion and exclusion

And there has been a long-running debate over whether disruptive pupils should be taught in units within schools or at sites outside of schools.

The Conservatives argue that there should be separate "progress centres" for excluded pupils.

But apart from educational arguments over inclusive or exclusive approaches, there have been concerns over the high rate of delinquency and crime among excluded pupils who have drifted out of the school system.

The headteacher at Dalton Foljambe, Phil Rodgers, says that the learning centre will be a mix of discipline and innovation - and that it will maintain a "strong policy of inclusion".

There will be enough discipline to set boundaries on behaviour and enough innovation to try different approaches with pupils who have not succeeded with conventional approaches.

Learning mentors

Mr Rodgers says that teachers will use different techniques, such as using drama and information technology, as a way of delivering lessons in literacy and numeracy.

Another scheme which has mainly been used in secondary schools which is being applied at Dalton Foljambe is the use of learning mentors.

These mentors, who work within the education action zone in which the school is based, provide one-to-one support for pupils with difficulties outside school that are interfering with lessons.

This might include territory more usually associated with social workers, such as family problems at home.

At Dalton Foljambe this includes learning mentors from local comprehensives talking to the top primary class before they transfer to the secondary school.

In this year's league table of test results, Dalton Foljambe was named as the most improved, which drew particular praise as the school serves a deprived area, which has suffered since the closure of local coal mines.

Mr Rodgers attributed the school's success to the literacy and numeracy strategies, support from parents and the education action zone and the monitoring of pupil's progress.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Education
No poverty of expectation
21 Nov 99 | Education
Looking back without anger
04 Mar 99 | Education
School that stopped exclusions
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