Vision and Action, Number 3, October 2001  
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Vision & Action is edited by Alison Closs and produced by Gina Reddie.

Any enquiries about this publication should be directed to the Anti-Bullying Network on 0131 651 6103.

Vision and Action is published on an occasional basis to illustrate how schools that have already developed and continue to maintain a positive ethos use this to cope with a particular event or unusual demand made on their school community. The two previous issues have focussed on a primary school moving to 'new-build' premises, and on the unification of a secondary school and a previously separate special school's secondary department.

This issue describes how Pentland School maintained its morale while relocating.
Pentland School, Tay Street, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, ML5 2NA. Contact: Iain Porteous, Headteacher. Telephone 01236 420471

Introduction
Pentland School is North Lanarkshire's primary age specialist provision for pupils experiencing significant social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. The school is now situated in the Townhead area of Coatbridge, having recently been relocated to larger and more suitable premises. Pupils attend Pentland School when the supports and strategies available within the mainstream context are unable to meet their needs fully and effectively.

Our promise to pupils and parents
The education department in North Lanarkshire has as its motto 'aiming higher' and has identified raising achievement as its key policy direction. Pentland School fully embraces this policy which has, as one of its aspects, an emphasis on the importance of providing children with environments and experiences that promote the development of confident and well-rounded individuals. Pupils can then go on to build achievements and to benefit more fully from education.

This is especially true for pupils who experience social and emotional difficulties. It is crucial that our school, which aims to help children experiencing a range of achievement-inhibiting emotions, provides them with an environment and relationships that will help them begin to address and overcome feelings such as low self-esteem, hurt, anger, frustration and rejection. Working with children with very complex social and emotional needs is never easy. The role of staff is critical. They must have the skills and knowledge that enable them to become the catalyst that enables children to change old habits, destructive responses and maladaptive behaviour patterns. Children who can be seriously out of control and lacking purpose in their lives find it difficult or impossible to stop their downward cycle of negative behaviour. They often cannot re-orientate themselves unless they receive specialist support within an alternative to mainstream environment. When new and more appropriate responses to their lives are learned, they feel safer and more in control. Only then can they begin to move towards more mature behaviour, better relationships and greater academic achievement.

Our staff have the privilege of being able to change lives and give our pupils improved opportunities for the future. Our promise to our pupils and their parents is illustrated in our school logo which shows a boy and a girl walking through the keyhole to Pentland School and towards the doorway to improved opportunities (see picture 2).

Recent responses from some parents, written on our comment / concern / compliment evaluation form which is sent twice per term to parents, indicates that we can fulfil that promise (see quote boxes to the right).

A positive ethos: the cornerstone of life at Pentland
Providing and maintaining a strong school ethos where pupils and staff respect each other and work hand in hand towards shared goals is the bedrock of our life at Pentland. We are proud of this, while not pretending that it is always easy. Only when our pupils develop respect and esteem for themselves and then for others can they appreciate their interdependence with others. Then they begin to learn about and fulfil their duties and responsibilities within the school community and, as they progress, in society. We have tried to be systematic in building up our ethos and checking regularly with all the 'interested parties' - children, families, staff, social workers and other professionals - to find out what they think we do well and also in what ways we could improve. Pentland School was runner-up for the year 2000 Scottish Schools Ethos Network Award, but that was not all that 2000 held for us!

School relocation
Our original school in Chryston (see picture 1) was on inconvenient split sites and too small for comfort. We were increasingly unable to accommodate and help the significant number of pupils referred to us as experiencing insurmountable difficulties despite the many and varied interventions tried by their schools. Larger and vastly more suitable accommodation became available (see picture 3) and we moved in November 2000. It all sounded quite simple...

School relocation, a potential for crisis
Our pupils are often confused and troubled, struggling to find their way through an undergrowth of dysfunction. They need consistency of routine and approach. Even small changes in circumstances can lead to further distress and even regression. When children, and some adults too, are faced with the ambiguity, anxiety and loss of control that can accompany major change, they can become depleted physically and emotionally exhausted. We fully expected our pupils to be anxious and unsettled during the move and possibly cause themselves and others distress. We had the potential for a crisis and it was crucial that the staff were able to minimise the inevitable trauma associated with our school relocation.

Our opportunity-orientated staff
Some people view changes as threatening and are often reluctant to acknowledge the need for change. When change can no longer be ignored, they have too little time left to plan appropriately. They respond in reactive rather than in pro-active ways. We are fortunate that all members of our staff work as a team. Individually and collectively they are 'opportunity-orientated' people. While recognising the potential difficulties involved in the school's relocation, they were also able to appreciate the potential advantages. They have developed and demonstrated the necessary resilience and skills to deal with inevitable disruptions. This ability to cope with discomfort comes from knowing that they do not need to disguise or deny their feelings, but can rather share their worries by capitalising on the ethos of acceptance and support that is available from the team. Our staff were committed to the move.

It was now imperative that both staff and pupils worked together to plan for the move so that all involved became aware of their individual and corporate responsibilities to enable a successful move to be made.

Circletime at Pentland
We meet as a whole school weekly for around 40 minutes (see picture 4). Pupils and staff sit in a circle and are involved in various activities, all of which are designed to promote enjoyment, co-operation and community spirit. Importantly, each week there is a carefully planned theme arising either from an event during the week or a sub-topic from our personal and social development programme. For example, the topic of the summer term is 'the rights and responsibilities of pupils and staff'. Circletime also provides an open agenda slot when pupils can say how they feel about aspects of their school life. Their views can be discussed. Decisions reached either in the circle, if appropriate, or by staff later, are reported in our Circletime log book. Here are some views about rights and responsibilities recently generated by our older pupils:

We have the right to be heard. We have a responsibility to listen to others, and not interrupt because it takes away their right to be heard.
Our circle is a listening circle where we value and support each other. It helps us feel good about ourselves and it makes us feel like a team.
We give each other advice about our behaviour and we always close by patting each other on the back and celebrating all the achievements we've made in the past week.
We play games in the circle to practise our skills like co-operation and listening.
We have clear rules about turn taking.
We have a right to voice our opinions freely and expect to have our feelings protected.
It we face up to our responsibilities, we earn our golden time. We sign up and invest heavily in this.
We know there are penalties to pay if we abuse the rights of others.

 

Picture 2: The school logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My son 'J' has changed from being constantly troubled and in trouble to being happier and less stressed...he can now play with others and attend parties...his schoolwork has come on by huge amounts...I could not begin to think what would happen to him had he not gone to your school.
My son 'P' has stopped bedwetting and having nightmares since starting at Pentland. He is a lot happier in a small and supportive school.
I am so happy for 'T' now that he is in a school where people can understand and help him with his problems.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 1: View of the 'old' school, now left behind.
Picture 3: The school's new premises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 4: We have whole school, class and staff Circletimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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