School Disaffection: What About the Child?

March 2006

This challenging and informative day was chaired by Alison Todd, Children’s Services Manager, ChildLine Scotland. The event was addressed by Peter Peacock, Minister for Education and Young People, who also participated in a Q/A session.

More about the day is available by following the links below.

David Cameron: Director of Children’s Services - Stirling Council

“What we teach must work for all children and tap all their potential talents, not just some of them. The curriculum we offer must be broad, balanced and progressive. It must reach out and touch all children in a way that makes sense to each individual child. It must motivate each child, involve each child, inspire and enlighten each child. It must be a curriculum that recognises that there are many kinds of knowing, feeling and expressing truth”

Our key note speaker, David Cameron, began his presentation by commenting on the widening gap in wealth, the complexity of problems and lack of motivation which has made it even more difficult for the poorest in society to succeed. He emphasised the need for schools to meet the needs of young people differently, pointing to service integration and joint ownership. Above all, he challenged delegates to ‘confound the destiny’ of the young people they work with.

As one of our delegates recorded: “David Cameron’s speech was very motivational and energetic. Cease the opportunity – no excuses!”

Download David’s Power Point presentation HERE

Helen Berry: Scottish Executive Education Department: Support for Learning

“We have to shape learning experiences around the child and not vice versa, education is about achievement and not just attainment”

Helen Berry gave an insight into the Scottish Government Education Department’s thinking and responses to school disaffection. She introduced a range of approaches which SEED are keen to develop or currently support. These include:

  • Engaging parents – Home school Links
  • Achievement and attainment
  • Flexibility and curriculum choice
  • Integrated working to support the child
  • Resilience
  • Positive behaviour – positive relationships
  • Better support for learning

Download Helen’s Power Point presentation HERE

You can access the ‘Ambitious, excellent schools: progress report’ and other relevant SEED policy reports from the Scottish Government website at

Derrick Bruce: Behaviour Support Service Manager: Fife Council

“Schools cannot deal with the broad range of causes of disruption alone. Partnership and multi-agency work are essential”

Derrick Bruce presented a local authority perspective to providing effective support around school disaffection. Derrick emphasised the authority’s vision to improve the educational outcomes for all children and young people and especially the bottom 20% of the school population. He went on to highlight key ingredients for an inclusive and successful school. These included effective leadership, good communication, curricular flexibility, parental support, effective staff and good pupil attitudes. Derrick stressed the importance of multi-agency working and effective external supports in improving the experience for all pupils.

Download Derrick’s Power Point presentation HERE

Derrick is now a member of the SEED better Behaviour Better Learning Regional Communication Team. More about the team at:

Frank Reilly: Depute Head of Our Lady's High School: North Lanarkshire

“Greater curriculum flexibility and a more vocational curriculum provide clear benefits in terms of motivating and better meeting the needs of pupils who are not suited with mainstream subjects”

Frank Reilly gave an interesting insight into the benefits curriculum flexibility can bring in terms of motivating pupils who are not positively engaging with school. Some pupils have benefited from the emergence of more vocational opportunities such as Horticulture, Duke of Edinburgh, Construction and Child Care. Frank highlighted that developing and extending the curriculum requires the support and partnership of external agencies to help facilitate and deliver these options.

Download Frank’s Power Point presentation HERE  

Grant Sugden: Operational Manager: FSU Edinburgh and Liz Whyte: Head Teacher: Royston Primary School Edinburgh presented in a workshop session

“In our experience the children of drug users often lack stimulation, have poor and erratic attendance and limited concentration skills. This has a profound impact on their educational experience and readiness to learn”

Grant and Liz presented on their joined up response to meeting the needs of children of substance users in an area of multiple deprivation in Edinburgh. The approach involves the Family Service Unit (FSU) and the local primary school working in collaboration. Their model places emphasis on five main areas. These are:

  • Intensive support to parents to develop parenting capacity
  • Individual and group support to children
  • Helping families access other services
  • Family school liaison work to promote positive school experience
  • Joint working with professionals and adult services

As one of our delegates said: “Liz – I think you should be involved in educating and envisioning your fellow head teachers!”

Download Grant’s Power Point presentation HERE

Download Liz’s Power Point presentation HERE

Dr John Davis: Co-ordinator of Childhood Studies: University of Edinburgh presented in a workshop session

Dr John Davies presented a consideration of the medicalisation of childhood, and of problematic behaviour. This included an appreciation of the both medical and social models to understanding and responding to problem behaviour and childhood disabilities. He stressed the importance of communication and engaging with children in terms of their abilities and not their inabilities. Most importantly he asked delegates to question their own preconceptions of childhood behaviour and disability and consider how this impacts on practice.

As one of our delegates said: “Dr Davis provided an excellent and often provocative overview of this huge issue. It would be a fascinating issue to consider with a full range of service providers at a future PINS event. I was very grateful to him for taking the time to talk to us today”.

Download John’s Power Point presentation HERE

John has contributed a chapter ‘Disability, Childhood Studies and The Construction of Medical Discourses: Questioning Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’ in Gwynedd Lloyd’s (ed) new book Critical New Perspectives on ADH. Taylor and Francis 2006.

Jenny Spratt and Kate Philip: The Rowan Group: Aberdeen University presented in a workshop session

“Schools and education authorities are often unfamiliar with the language of mental health. Mental health is touched on in a range of policy areas but there is little coordinated funding and services are patchy with only pockets of good provision”

Jenny Spratt and Kate Philip from the Rowan Group, University of Aberdeen, presented on SEED funded research which they have recently been involved in. They conducted a Scotland wide investigation into education authorities, schools and partner agencies responses to challenging behaviour thought to be triggered by poor mental health. Their findings revealed that provision is variable and emphasized the importance of schools to work in partnership with specialist agencies to build teacher’s capacity to deal with issues relating to pupils mental health.

As one of our delegates said: “This was an excellent workshop – both thoughtful and thought provoking”.

Download Jenny and Kate’s Power Point presentation HERE

You can access the Rowan Group’s report ‘Investigating the links between Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools’ HERE

Sally Wassell: Independent Social Worker and consultant presented in a workshop session

Sally facilitated a participatory workshop which looked at working with resilience. You can find links to Sally’s publications HERE

As one if our delegates said: “Very, very interesting. Lots of space for further sessions on this theme”.

Addie Stevenson: Director of Children and Family Services: Aberlour Child Care Trust

“Our programmes are intensive and lengthy. Our 8 weeks assessment ensures there is recognition that long standing problems respond better to intensive input over a sustained period”.

Addie talked about the processes adopted by the Aberlour Crannog Services which are involved in unpacking the often complex needs of young people referred to the service. The services uses community based support, working from project bases and schools to increase educational attainment and promote social inclusion.

Download Addie’s Power Point presentation HERE

Sandy Corlett: Family Support Team: Children 1st

“The assessment phase allows us to identify issues, barriers to inclusion in school, to establish a baseline for measuring change, to decide on appropriate interventions, to engage positively with parents recognising them as the experts in respect of their child and to find out the child’s view of the world through speaking to the child”

Sandy explored the importance of the Family Support Team’s commitment to an assessment phase which helps establish the needs and aspirations of the young person and their family. Sandy highlighted that assessment is not just about looking for problems but also about looking for strengths, good relationships and positives which can be built on and help influence encouraging change.

Download Sandy’s Power Point presentation HERE

Danny Holligan: Project Leader: Barnardos Community Support Team Edinburgh

“It is really important to build the young person’s sense of self worth. You can find talent within any young person. They all have talents which can be built on; it’s about taking the time to get to know them and recognising success”

Danny’s presentation reiterated the complexity of problems faced by young people who are disengaged with school. He emphasized the importance of solution orientated and inclusive approaches and highlighted the role the voluntary sector can play in providing support to schools to help work with disaffected young people.

Download Danny’s Power Point presentation HERE

Euan Davidson: Director: The Princes Trust

Our final speaker of the day, Euan Davidson, highlighted the main strengths of the voluntary sector. Euan paid particular attention to the voluntary sectors flexibility, personalised approach and freedom to innovate.

And as one of our delegates reflected in their comments: “Teach the child, not the subject”.

Download Euan’s Power Point presentation HERE

  • The day had included a DVD presentation form some young people involved in Barnardo’s Levenmouth Links project. Their voices, their views were much appreciated by delegates.
  • Many delegates suggested that joint statutory and voluntary sector training would help build effective responses to working with disengaged pupils.
  • Delegates identified transitions and early intervention as of particular interest. A view across delegates was that primary schools are better at working with the whole child. However there were also some concerns that school disaffection is also evident in the lives of some younger pupils.
  • Better joined up working within the voluntary sector and developing better partnerships with schools were also highlighted as priorities.
  • Parents were viewed as crucial partners in the process of engaging and re-engaging young people with learning.

Some other comments from delegates included:

  • “How is the framework offered by Curriculum for Excellence to be used in assessing young people’s progress?”
  • “We need to hear more about practical work, coming out of the rhetoric from this morning’s presentations – we need stories from the ground”
  • “The voice of the young people needs to be heard – the DVD was moving and rooted in reality”
  • “I’m encouraged by the number of people involved in the voluntary sector with young people”
  • “From lack of accountability to leadership attitudes – how do we make this happen?”
  • “Young people are not really asking for anything out of the ordinary. They are looking for someone to listen to them, support them, give them some guidance”
  • “This is a unique opportunity in Scotland – we have a government who actually listens to us and works with us to make real changes”
  • “The voluntary sector needs to avoid competition and work together locally on a shared agenda for change”
  • “I see the importance of early intervention; what factors lead to increased vulnerability to exclusion and what can be done to cater for these needs before they reach crisis point and before exclusion (or self exclusion) become more difficult to prevent.”