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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Breaking bad behaviour habits
By Angela Harrison
BBC News Online education staff

children cooking
The centre has a kitchen where the children cook and eat
Stories of "tiny terrors" being thrown out of school for attacking their teachers or other children make headline news.

Behind the headlines there are many stories: those of the school which is struggling to handle a child's behaviour, those of other children in the class who are being pushed around or upset, and those of the child - who might have severe learning or emotional difficulties - and its parents.

A centre in Suffolk aims to bring together the people in all sides of the story - and keep the child in mainstream education.

Next term the First Base Centre in Lowestoft will welcome its youngest recruit - a three-year-old girl.

The unit aims to help children who have been excluded from school and those who seem to be heading that way by forming a partnership between its staff, the child's parents and the mainstream school.

Since it opened in 1999, it has worked with scores of children aged between four and eight who have either been excluded from school or are in danger of being excluded.

Centre manager Dee Moxon believes that early intervention with children with behavioural problems is crucial - and says the unit's approach is helping to cut the number of exclusions in the area of Suffolk it covers.

Parent, Kate
Kate was overjoyed when her son made a friend
"It is not a magic wand, and there are setbacks sometimes, but I haven't heard of any of the children who have been here being permanently excluded from school," she said.

"If you catch children at an early age it is much easier to help them than if you don't reach them until Key Stage 2 (seven years plus) or later.

"By then, if they have been have been struggling for their first years in school, they already feel like failures, their self-esteem is so low that it is much harder."

Dee Moxon believes it is the partnership between the children's parents and teachers and the centre which makes this approach so successful.

Children who are referred to the centre come part-time, for one or two days a week, depending on their needs.

Two-way mirror

There are just six children in the homely and colourful centre on any one day and each receives close attention from the teachers and support staff there.

It's a family environment, where the children help to make breakfast and lunch and eat meals in the kitchen together as well as doing typical school work such as literacy and numeracy and science.

There is a two-way mirror so that the children can be observed discretely if necessary.

For the rest of the week, the children are in their main school, sometimes supported by someone from First Base.
We work a lot on speaking and listening skills because a lot of children have trouble communicating
Gillian Rackham, teacher

When they leave the centre - usually after two or three terms - staff will go to their schools to work with them and their teachers, who are also seen as a crucial part of the jigsaw.

When a child first arrives at First Base, their parents are invited to come for a weekly parenting course, where they meet the centre's staff plus other parents to talk about the difficulties they share and about ways of handling their child's behaviour.

Most parents say they have seen dramatic improvements in their children's behaviour.

One mum, Cheri, has a seven-year-old son, who has short-term memory problems and suspected ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder). He kept getting sent home because of his behaviour in class.

"We had enormous problems. He was extremely aggressive, scratching classmates and teachers," she said.

Her son has been helped by an outreach worker coming into his school one day a week, who has helped to bring in new techniques and strategies which are used at home and at school.

The strategies included introducing a star chart reward system and putting her son in a quiet room to calm down. "He has come on really well socially and is doing much better in his school work too," said Cheri.

"It had been thought that he couldn't be put in for his SATs tests but he came on so well he was entered and he has done really well in them," said Cheri.

Ritalin

Kate's son, Sam, who is seven, was on the point of being excluded from his school when he was referred to First Base, about a year ago.

"He was very clingy and took everything personally and would fly off the handle. The school was always calling me to take him home.

"Once they called at 9.15am. It wasn't worth me going home usually so I used to go into a friend's house opposite the school.

"I was at the end of my tether. I had taken him to the doctor who had said he could be put on Ritalin and at that time things were so bad I would have put him on anything, but Dee suggested we tried moving him to a smaller school to see how he got on.

children with teacher doing crafts
The school follows the national curriculum
"The unit helped me to move him to the smaller school and since then he has come on well and has learned to control his anger and has made friends. I was so moved on his first day at the new school when I heard a child say to his mum that Sam was his new friend.

"He still has tantrums, but you can see he is controlling them more and he is not violent."

For many parents, when they first come to the centre, there seems to be a feeling of relief that they are not alone and that there are people around to call on if things get tough.

They describe how isolated they feel as the parent of the child who is always in trouble.

Many said "It was good to feel that I was not the only one."

They seem to have found the parenting group useful. Another mother, Angie, valued the tips on how to handle her boys, who are nearly seven and five, who were always fighting each other.

"It helped me to see what I was doing wrong. Little things, such as if a child is talking to you, to stop what you are doing and look at them."

Centre manager Dee Moxon doesn't like the suggestion that the unit tells parents what to do.

"It is the partnership which makes the difference, everyone working together," she says.

First base manager Dee Moxon
"It's vital to catch children early," says centre manager Dee Moxon
Discussions in the group will move from people's own experiences to different strategies for dealing with behaviour, the need for a consistent approach from home and school, the effects of certain foods, vitamins or medication.

While the parents chat upstairs in the First Base house, downstairs the children are busy making scones which they will eat together later that day.

"Social skills are very important," says Dee Moxon. "So breakfast and lunchtimes are too, because the children can learn to share and interact with each other. This will help them in their playtimes and lunchtimes at school, which are often the most difficult times of the day for children."

First Base teacher Gillian Rackham says the approach followed at the unit is a positive one.

"Lots of rewards and praise so that they get attention for doing good things not for bad behaviour."

She says it is wonderful to see pupils developing. "There is a little girl here today who came here with very low self-esteem, she thought she could not do anything and used to say 'I can't read, I can't do that'.

"We gave her the belief in herself and now it's so nice to see her just reading books.

"We have the luxury of small numbers and have that little bit of extra time to give them. We work with them a lot on speaking and listening skills because a lot of children have trouble communicating - which leads to other problems."

For the children, their time at First Base seems to be a happy one.

"I like coming here for the painting and the cooking," said one.




SEE ALSO:
Fewer children banned from school
27 May 04  |  Education
Helping the most troubled pupils
11 Feb 04  |  Education
Experts to tackle unruly pupils
03 Sep 03  |  Education
Boy, three, banned from nursery
06 May 03  |  South Yorkshire
Disruptive pupils undermine teachers
07 Jan 03  |  Education


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