06/01/2009 :: The Irish News
A multi-million-pound strategy to halt unruly behaviour in schools is being subjected to a review to see whether it has wasted public money.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office is probing the Department of Education’s Promoting and Sustaining Good Behaviour Strategy.
Launched in 1998, its aim was to “provide a coherent and consistent approach to promoting good behaviour in school”.
This, the department said, would “begin in the classroom with appropriate and targeted support for teachers and pupils”.
A survey prior to its launch indicated that more than 100,000 pupils (35 per cent) in Northern Ireland schools were disruptive in class.
While there are now fewer children being expelled than in previous years, there has been no marked reduction in suspensions.
There are still about 5,000 pupil suspensions every year.
Each of the five education boards has spent millions of pounds in the behaviour support field over the 10 years since the launch of the department’s strategy.
The North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) alone has invested almost £18 million.
Strategies that have stemmed from the department’s document included providing support within schools to staff working on positive behaviour practice and policy.
The board also has worked with individual children experiencing difficulties within school, provided placements in guidance centres or individual tuition where children can have difficulties addressed in a more specialised setting.
The NEELB has also played a role in the Ballymena Safety Partnership on reducing bullying behaviour on the journeys to and from school.
“Risk management, reasonable restraint and safe handling have been approached by ensuring that the board has a number of well-trained, experienced and accredited trainers who are able to give support in specific areas with advice on policy and risk reduction strategy,” a spokes-man said.
“All of these ‘behaviour supports’ have been managed at a strategic and an area-based level to ensure that the required degree of support is effectively targeted at the point of need.”
The audit office said taxpayers and parents expected the school system to provide a learning environment where pupils felt safe, both physically and psychologically.
The absence of such conditions, it said, was likely to have long-term impacts, both on the disruptive pupils and other pupils.
Without proper support at school, patterns of challenging behaviour could continue into later life and lead to difficulties interacting and behaving in society.
“The purpose of our review is to assess the extent to which the department’s behaviour strategy is fostering a safe learning environment – one in which pupils behave in a socially responsible manner and feel secure to engage in learning, safe from bullying and intimidation,” the audit office said.
The report is due to be published this spring.