Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Behaviour units 'keep pupils out of jail'

The chief inspector of Scottish prisons has called for the creation of behaviour units in more schools to prevent young people ending up in jail.

The proposal from Brigadier Hugh Munro came in response to a report on a unit at Dunfermline High School.

It has been credited with helping to turn around pupils who were going off the rails.

The number of pupils being suspended or expelled at the school has fallen by almost 75% since the unit opened.

Jordan Duncan, 17, a former pupil at Dunfermline High School, who is now studying at Adam Smith college, said she was sent to the inclusion unit because she had been fighting, swearing and "playing the clown in class".

She said a visit to Cornton Vale women's prison with the unit made a strong impression on her and she was determined not to end up in jail, or lead the life of some of her friends.

She said: "They all dropped out of school in fourth year. They're not at college, not doing anything - just sitting, going out, misbehaving, getting in trouble with police.

"I could see myself doing that if it wasn't for the unit because I wouldn't have had the reality check, someone to sit me down and be authoritative to say: 'this is what you need to do, or this is what's going to happen'."

Keiron Walls, 14, who is currently attending the unit, said a visit to Perth prison left a mark on him too.

"Talking to some of the prison people, they say if they had an inclusion unit in their school, they probably wouldn't be in jail at that time," he said.

"I was glad to hear that because I'm in it and I'm hoping I'm not going to jail. I'm making sure I don't because inclusion's changed my life."

'Responsible citizens'

Brigadier Munro said the unit could change lives, and at £28,000 a year costs less than keeping just one person in a young offender institution.

He said: "If you have a support mechanism like an inclusion unit where you can take children away from mainstream education and within the school, deal with them in an inclusive way - in a specific unit with staff who are trained to take these children and involve them, inspire them - that makes a huge plus both for the child and the school as a whole.

"I believe inclusion is the way ahead and I would like to see more such units in schools where they are dealing with such children."

David Watt, HM inspector at Education Scotland and lead inspector for additional support needs, launched the evaluation report in Dunfermline.

He said: "The Dunfermline High School inclusion unit shows the outstanding effect that the right intervention at the right time can have on the learning, attendance and social and emotional well-being of young people.

"This effective form of additional support works with the school to help the young people to be successful learners, effective contributors, responsible citizens and confident individuals."

The success of the behaviour unit is being linked to staffing by Apex, an organisation which specialises in working with ex-offenders and young people at risk.

'Soft option'

The report by policy consultant Colin Duff said pupils appeared to find it easy to relate to Apex staff.

Louise Ramsay, depute rector of Dunfermline High School, agreed with the report's findings and said Apex staff were crucial in the success of the unit for the young people attending.

She said: "The unit reaches to them (pupils). It builds up relationships between them and the unit's staff, in a way that teachers can't do. The pupils don't feel able to make those relationships with teachers - despite our best efforts."

Alan Staff, chief executive of Apex Scotland, said suspending or removing a child permanently from a school may reduce disruption in the classroom but it can be counterproductive for the young people involved.

He said: "They may see that as being a bit of a soft option, an opportunity to just go and hang around with their mates and do nothing.

"Rather than rewarding poor behaviour that way, we prefer to keep them within the system, challenge that behaviour - get their peers to challenge that behaviour as well."

The unit, which can work with up to eight pupils at a time, holds discussions over drugs and alcohol, invites visiting speakers and sometimes arranges visits to prison.

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