Fifteen year old Sharon was referred by her Guidance Teacher, to the Focus On Your Future (FYF) programme for the following reasons: non co-operation with teachers and school procedures; problems with peers; aggressive behaviour towards pupils; risky behaviour with older boys; substance misuse; family issues; and coming to the attention of police for anti- social behaviour and welfare concerns – all impacting on the school environment.
On her introduction to the FYF programme Sharon refused to engage and was not interested in any part of the programme or peer association. We began to deliver modules from the programme and injected humour, where appropriate, to lighten the content and address individual’s barriers. The theme delivered throughout the programme was Choices and Consequences. For Sharon, in particular, we focused on empowerment to build her self- esteem and give an understanding of what this notion was. A breakthrough was evident during an exercise entitled ‘Getting to Know You’ as the pupil recognised those present were experiencing difficulties of their own and appreciated everyone had their differences and accepted this. She appreciated the similarities amongst the group which helped to generate peer support and an established network.
The second breakthrough occurred during an exercise entitled ‘I Am Dead’ – a relaxation technique which explored a fictional scenario. Sharon was visibly moved by the exercise and advised it had ‘touched a nerve’ by making her focus on family relationships – in particular, with her father – and the value of maintaining contact with him. This was a powerful experience whereby each of the participants shared their thoughts from the exercise which generated a communal acceptance from the group. From this point onwards she was open to change her behaviour as she understood her actions and reactions much clearer and could use a range of ‘tools’ conducive to cope with situations in and out of school.
The final breakthrough was achieved after a visit to Cornton Vale Young Offenders Institution. Sharon realised she needed to adapt her behaviour appropriately to the demands of a situation otherwise her choices would lead to a custodial sentence which she did not want.
After the FYF Programme ended she had a series of 1-2-1’s to maintain positive contact whereby she felt the turning point in her life had come from the ‘I am Dead’ exercise. She advised she was able to put situations into perspective and take control rather than situations taking control of her, which had previously led to making choices with negative consequences. The pupil recommended this exercise to her peers and returned to the Inclusion unit as a peer mentor to support other young people in school.
In turn this supported observations from teachers, deputes and her parents who advised the positive differences in her were remarkable. Her peers were also complimentary of the changes and were no longer intimidated by her aggressive nature which led her to becoming a popular member of her year group.
Sharon remained in school until her 5th year, whereby she moved on to college and subsequently university whereby she is currently an undergraduate student of nursing.
In December 2010, Tom and Jack (15 and 13 years old) shoplifted from the retail store, Primark, whilst on a school outing through the Apex Scotland/Dunfermline High School partnership. The boys were not caught at the time, however the following day both boys attended school wearing the stolen items. The Apex staff member sensed something wasn’t right and investigated further; concluding with the admission of theft. The boys had opposing reactions. Tom owned up straight away and offered the truth. Jack made threats and tried to bargain his way out the situation. This left staff with a moral, social and ethical decision to make to address the issue of theft, restore order in the young person’s moral code and provide understanding of the serious consequences to ensure they would not repeat this type of action again.
We informed the Pupil Support Depute Rector who echoed our disappointment in the boys and we discussed options to best tackle the situation. Pre-partnership, the school would have involved police and taken a penal sanction, however since forming the partnership, the school actively sought alternative sanctions which would have lasting impact and maximum effect on the young person. In the end we agreed both boys would be excluded from school due to the serious nature of their actions, but rather than involving police and having them charged with theft, Apex staff took Tom and Jack back to the store and returned the items. We involved the store, pastoral staff and parents and carers of the boys and obtained their full support. The boys paid for the items out of their pocket money, as the items were not in a condition for resale, and were instructed to offer a face to face apology to the manager of the store.
This form of action achieved significant results; provoking sincere regret in the young people. By taking them back to the store and having them face up to the consequences of their actions and attempting to right the wrong proved a fruitful exercise. Both Tom and Jack already had police and social work involvement, therefore utilising a statutory approach would not have affected the boys as much as this practice. It would have distanced them from their crime and we needed them to understand the impact of their actions on themselves and others. This promoted social responsibility and instilled an experience in the young people they could reflect and draw upon the feelings of disappointment and embarrassment to divert them from similar actions in the future.
The school and Apex were praised by the store, parents, police, social work and wider pupil support faculty for their creative means of addressing a serious issue.
Kirsty had attended the Inclusion unit in Dunfermline High School since starting her 1st year in 2007. Throughout her 1st and 2nd year of high school she was repeatedly brought to the attention of Depute Rectors and other school staff for her challenging and disruptive behaviour. She was considered a threat by her peers as they were intimidated by her aggressive, and often disrespectful, behaviour towards them. This behaviour was mimicked in and out of school whereby she was causing disruption in the community at night. After several school sanctions including punishment exercises, detention and out of school exclusion did not deter her actions, a decision was taken to place her in the Focus on Your Future Programme, in partnership with Apex Scotland.
Through this course, Kirsty was able to address what was affecting her socially, emotionally and educationally. She was able to mix with her peers in an informal setting where she could take off the mask of whom she felt she should be and look at the potential of whom she could be. Through a number of interactive exercises where she was pushed out of her comfort zone, her peers were able to witness a more vulnerable side to her; a side that was more accessible to them once her barriers were lowered. In turn, this proved successful as the transition between classes was a lot smoother and the relationships with other young people and staff drastically improved as lines of communication opened. This allowed all parties to see the benefit in accepting differences between each other and working together to achieve something worthwhile.
By adopting this attitude and learning positive things about herself, Kirsty’s family, friends and teachers recognised the growth in confidence and maturity which was highlighted by celebrating her achievement at the school’s Annual Awards Ceremony. The pupil was awarded with Apex Scotland’s ‘Self Development Award’ highlighting her commitment to change and continuum of success. Not only was she incredibly gracious accepting her award, she has continued her positive attitude by contributing to the courses run by Apex Scotland to encourage other young people to avert from following negative influences and focus on achieving positive opportunities. For example, she plays for the school hockey team and encourages her peers and other young people to take up a sport to instil hard work, determination, team work, fun and positive recognition.
Furthermore, she offers her time to assist Apex Scotland: taking part in the production of a promotional DVD; partaking in fundraising activities, such as a Christmas Coffee Morning to raise funds for outdoor activities and assisting with visits from Government bodies, including the Positive Behaviour Team. Throughout these activities, Kirsty conducts herself in a genuine, positive, polite and confident manner, which has earned her the respect of teachers, family, her peers, other young people and other members of staff working with her. She has truly turned her life around and can be confident of achieving her desired goal as a police officer for Fife Constabulary, whereby she hopes to give something back to her community and help other young people.
Pamela, a 4th year pupil, had been a persistent truant and disruptive for most of her school career. Although she was not the most high tariff pupil in the school, she displayed attention seeking and aggressive behaviour. She was indulging in risky behaviour through relationship choices and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Pamela was referred to the Inclusion Unit’s Focus on Your Future Programme where she undertook activities to address alcohol, drugs, sexual health, choices and consequences, offending, self-esteem building, language awareness and perceptions. Participation on this course was a great success for the young person who subsequently became part of our peer mentoring programme, educating other pupils on issues affecting them in and out of school.
The personal transition Pamela made meant she remained in school to complete her 4th year and was allowed to remain in school for a 5th. It was agreed she would attend the Inclusion unit as a work placement through her curricular Lifeskills class. In this capacity she attended the unit full time as a perceived member of staff, learning about the administration processes and various projects facilitated by Apex Scotland. In turn this enhanced her personal development, offering her invaluable work experience and practical skills.
Ultimately, as a result of her hard work, determination and work experience she reached the decision on what to embark on for a career – a prison officer. Through our community partnership, prison officers advised next steps to gain more life experience and a practical craft. Pamela applied to college to undertake a hair and beauty course, which she is now enrolled in full time and working part time in a restaurant. She still wants to apply to the prison service when she’s 18.
If Pamela had not been offered the opportunity to address external issues through the partnership, she would, by her own admission, have left school without any qualification or positive destination. This relationship was so successful, the ex-pupil now volunteers with the project to continue to offer advice and guidance to those most at risk from school or community exclusion
Peter, a 12 year old boy, was referred to us not long after beginning his 1st year in high school for persistent truancy. His home life could be described as difficult as his mum was rarely present; there were numerous male visitors to the house, illicit drug use, a lot of alcohol consumed at the property and all night parties regularly. His family had heavy involvement from social work, regular visits from police and local agencies were very aware of the problems related to the family. This aside, Peter was always polite and pleasant. He was using cannabis heavily but did not use alcohol after having his stomach pumped at the age of 8. His interest in school had diminished as his focus was on smoking cannabis and worrying about his mum when he wasn’t in the house.
Everything came to a head when she left the family home and moved away without letting anyone know. Peter was taken in to the care of a sibling who had a good influence on him, ensuring he was attending school, sanctioning him if necessary, always ensured he had clean clothes and was fed. With their co-operation and the support of the school, we addressed Peter’s cannabis use by getting him to keep a diary of his use, detailing how much he smoked and how much he was spending as he was beginning to owe people money and debt was becoming an issue. Once we had established a good relationship with the individual, he began attending school. We referred him to the Focus on Your Future course, working with people of a variety of ages in groups to have peer support and sharing of experience and advice. He completed the course and gained a certificate, which was the first he had achieved.
Unfortunately, this positive feeling did not last as Peter’s mum passed away. This was difficult as he had not spoken to his mum since she left. We supported him on the day of the funeral, being present, at his request, standing back and giving a presence from people he regarded safe.
To show continued support, Peter has Inclusion timetabled as part of his school week and this agreement will continue as long as his attendance in mainstream classes remains steady. If and when he wishes to seek bereavement counselling, we would look to refer to professionals.
‘I’m a fourth year pupil and was going to get expelled ‘cause I’d been in loads of trouble. The school helped me out a bit but then referred me to the Inclusion Unit as a last chance. This was not easy for me and it took a while to feel safe and open up.
My time in Inclusion helped loads as I would never have sat my exams if it hadn’t been for them. It gave me time and space away from my pals and teachers to open up about issues going on in my life. I slowly built up my confidence during the nine weeks I was in the Inclusion Unit. I also earned the trust and respect of staff and was rewarded with more responsibility and freedom as a result. Because of this it gave me the confidence to talk in front of groups and be more mature about everyday life and offering support to those younger than me and helping staff.
During my time in Inclusion, I also learned about anger management, relaxation techniques and stress management, drugs and alcohol, and offending behaviour and violence. Most importantly, I realised the school and my teachers weren’t working against me, they were working for me. I sat all my exams and worked hard to complete my English and Art folios. I learned how to talk through my problems with people rather than bottling things up. I also learned about working in groups and working on my own. What I liked most about the staff was they were trustworthy and always had time for me, no matter how busy they were. Although they may not have agreed with me all the time, they always listened to me and allowed me to speak without being judged and I felt comfortable to talk about issues. I was given advice and different ways of looking at things which made me think differently. Especially when I was going through a difficult time with my boyfriend and parents ‘cause I thought I was pregnant and didn’t know who to turn to as things at home have been crazy since I was young.
My mum is an alcoholic and her and my dad are split up and recently my dad sent me back to my Mum’s telling me ‘I was just like her.’ Moving back there wasn’t easy as my mum takes her boyfriend’s side over me. Without the Inclusion unit, I would have been expelled and not have sat my exams without subject folios, etc and would’ve kept on taking drugs and drinking a lot.
Because I had somewhere to go where I felt safe and listened to I was able to look back at my choices and change the things in my life that were starting to go wrong again. I was able to rebuild relationships with my family, teachers and other pupils in order to return to school after my exams to start fifth year. During my time in Inclusion, a member of staff came with me to a college open evening and helped me complete my college application forms. I have now successfully secured a place in college and will begin my hair and beauty course in February as I am a Christmas leaver but will attend college in August this year on an introductory course to get me ready for being a full time student.’