Friday, 22 September 2017

Recycle - Neighbourhood Clean Up - And The Fence Anomaly

Indeed, that is an unusual title for a blog post, an unusual title, full stop. However, I want to touch on a couple of issues here in regards to recycling and the responsibility of everyone. Secondly, there was coverage in yesterday's Fife Free Press over concerns expressed by both myself and Invertiel Tenants and Residents Association over the long running issue of the route by the viaduct being used as a shortcut by school pupils at lunchtime. 

Under the viaduct at Invertiel there is an area of woodland, it is a fairly quiet area, there are houses on both sides of it and cutting across the road will take you into the woods behind Invertiel. Aside from the regular Fife Circle train service rattling across the viaduct, once you climb up, the somewhat hazardous slope,  it is peaceful and secluded. An area where you would expect much wildlife to exist in fairly tranquil surroundings. However, all is not as it seems. Turn the corner and you are confronted by this !! - 

I struggle to find the words to sum up how I feel about all this discarded plastic - mainly in the form of juice bottles. Plastic is not biodegradable in this form. It will not break down, instead it will just lie there. Look at the area - trees, that provide a whole habitat for wildlife, all the insects and small woodland animals are going to be in amongst that. Not to forget that given the abundance also of sandwich boxes, sweet wrappers and crisp packets, it will attract rats - and the area is very close to houses. 

Here are some of the causes of death and injury to wildlife due to plastics and other waste being discarded:

* Small animals can climb inside plastic bags and suffocate or they can become wrapped up in them and choke
* Cans (such as drinks cans) often have sharp edges which can cut and injure small animals
* Glass (there isn't so much glass here) can cause injury and death - often through suffocation as small animals, with an instinct to smell objects closely, can become trapped in the neck of the bottle.
* Animals will often, as they scavenge for food, eat plastic wrappers which slowly kill them

In an effort to prevent the school pupils using the viaduct as a short cut it was agreed, a number of months ago, to look at constructing a fence to block off access. Reading through the correspondence (from the previous group of councillors) it appears to have been agreed with the Safer Communities team that the area would be cleared up, the email reads:

"the land in questions comes under council ownership, the largest area directly behind the school comes under education, having been on site it is clearly a health and safety issue."

Indeed it is. Therefore, why was a fence then constructed whereby none of the litter was picked up beforehand and secondly the fence does not block off access? Here is a picture of the fence - 

Whilst previously pupils from the school were using the area to the left of the fence they are now using the area to the right of the photo - the idea of the fence was to block off access - completely. 
That has not happened simply because the fence ends far short of the viaduct wall. The pupils simply use the other, more dangerous in my opinion, side of it. The litter of course being piled up on either side. Additionally, the fence has sharp spikes along the top of it, the potential dangers those present do not bear thinking about. 

Invertiel residents were keen to have a litter pick up but now, due to the fence, that is not possible from a health and safety point of view. They would have to carefully climb up the slope on the right hand side, cut across and then head down the other side of the slope to gather the litter. An idea had been considered by the previous head-teacher that a pupil group could be involved in any clean up. I would have strong reservations about that though given the access to the site. Whilst pupils are using the route as a short cut at lunchtime, we should not be actively endorsing them to enter into an area such as this given the potential hazards. The bottom line is, the area should have been properly cleaned prior to the fence being put in place and the fence should have been designed to stop access altogether.

The issue will be discussed further at the next Invertiel Tenants and Residents Association and it is hoped the school will engage fully in the process to seek a solution. Fife Council must also have a role to play in this as they transferred the money over to the school to oversee the completion of a fence. 

Meantime, I would absolutely urge people not to use the area as a short cut and on a wider note - please really consider the wider implications of dropping litter, particularly plastics, cans and glass. We all have a role to play in protecting and maintaining and cultivating our local environment and wildlife habitats. Recycling is something we are more than well aware of and if you can't immediately find a recycling bin, then carry your plastic bottle until you find one. 

On a more positive note the Fife Council Administration, has this week announced it will be setting aside £1/4 million to "deep clean" parts of Fife that have been neglected and overlooked. I absolutely welcome this move and look forward to it getting started.

Please remember - reduce, reuse and recycle.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Education - Are We Getting It Right? - Considerations

GIRFEC - the all encompassing mantra and acronym currently à la mode within the Scottish educational establishment. What does it mean though? Getting It Right For Every Child. Now, lets just stop there. First point, how do we know we are getting it right for every child? What are we using as our benchmark criteria? Over the past decade Scottish education has been subject to an enormous overhaul and re-branding exercise. Re-branding may be a strange word to use in the context of education, however, that is what I shall refer to as here, simply put because soundbites are the raison d'être of this Scottish Government when it comes to education. Indeed soundbites are what the past decade in Scotland has all been about. Substance though, is where we are lacking.

In this post I intend to discuss the state of Scottish education, in terms of a curriculum that appears to be, at least in part, failing and then the proposed changes to governance that will see new powers seemingly granted to head-teachers. When in fact the opposite is true, kit is is simply another SNP power grab by this lack of imagination Scottish Government - centralisation is the name of the game, lets not be in doubt about that. I will also consider what I would like to see as a way forward, some of which falls within the proposals by the Scottish Conservative Party on education and some of which are my own views. 

As I have stated in other articles I have written, at the heart of this there is one group of key stakeholders; the young people. Whilst politicians may ponder and pass laws, and whilst local authorities may implement those laws and allocate resources (another sore point in Scotland, where spending on education is lower in real terms that it was a decade ago) children, are not statistics. For every fall in international league tables, for every school that lacks sufficient teacher numbers, for ever politician who wishes to espouse their belief/idea/opinion on the way forward and what is right and what is wrong - there are thousands of youngsters, all entering the sausage machine of compulsory education from the age of 5 and re-emerging (hopefully full of knowledge and skills) at 16, if we do not get it right it is them we have failed. All of society has a responsibility and successive governments, both north and south of the border have tweaked and revamped curricula, qualifications and delivery of education, much of it being, to be blunt, experimental.A great deal of it formulated and executed by people who are completely removed from the everyday situation in a classroom and the worries, fears, concerns and hopes of young people. I write this as a former teacher, who has only been away from the classroom for a matter of months, so I am not, at this point, far removed from what is happening. 

On that note, let us begin. The embryonic form of what was to become Curriculum For Excellence was first considered in 2002 which led to four key strands that Scottish education would oscillate around - successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens & effective contributors. From the outset I was minded to think these were just words that could be interpreted almost anyway one chose to interpret them. The very naming of the curriculum set many an educational specialist on edge. As one friend pointed out to me - when you have to incorporate the word "excellence" you just know it will be anything but that (given that friend is a graduate of Cambridge and tutored Advanced Higher Maths students due to the lack of schools able to provide adequate supervision for students who aspired to, what would be termed as, elite universities, I did tend to think he was correct). CfE takes pupils up to the age of 15 and whilst it may claim to arm them with a set of "skills" from the four strands, the reality is somewhat different. Some of the data that we now have available tells a different story on its supposed "success". The percentage of pupils doing "well" or "very well" in numeracy is down for P4, P7 & S2 between 2011-2015 (note this is in the period following implementation). Data for P4, P7 & S2 in literacy shows a decline since 2014 and the percentage of pupils in S2 who are not where they should be in literacy and numeracy has gone from 7% in 2012 to 16% in 2016. This is not good enough. Remember what I said about pupils not being statistics? The bottom line is, that whilst this mess is examined and social scientists and statisticians deliberate the data there is a whole generation of pupils making their way through the education system who are not performing as well as they should be - it is failing them. Which in turns this will affect their future life chances and opportunities. It is meaningless to talk about closing the attainment gap when literacy and numeracy rates fall, action is what is needed. 

Lets turn now to the new National qualifications. Everyone remember the old Standard Grade? I went through the system with it, it didn't serve me too badly at all. Final grades were ranked with 1 being at the top all the way down to a 7. Everyone sat an exam, which meant that everyone had a sense of achievement - it was a benchmark to let individuals see what they had learned and achieved, it also meant that for teachers there was some clarity on what had gone well, where pupils needed to focus the next year and what could be done to provide support. Now we have a new qualification where pupils who read for a National 5 take an external exam, whereas pupils considered to fall short of that sit the National 4 - a qualification that pupils themselves are well aware of as not putting them in an advantageous position should they then choose to leave school and seek employment. The National 4 has no benchmark exam and the "assessments' can be taken time and time again until they are correct. Leaving both teacher and pupil unsure as to what exactly has really been "learned" and what is just the result of constant follow ups of "this is what you need to write". 

Having laterally taught pupils with Additional Support Needs (ASN) I became increasingly frustrated and infuriated by being asked at the beginning of the year which National qualifications the pupils were going to be working towards, then having endless page after page of paperwork, that on the majority of occasions appeared more to satisfy slightly senior staff members who wanted to be able to produce folders full of words rather than anything on what the pupils could do. Working in ASN it is very often more about developing the basics in literacy and numeracy and working on life-skills to give youngsters confidence and to hopefully set many of them up for at least partial independent living. Instead it was ticking boxes exercises and drilling pupils that they were now working on a National 2 in Money - when in reality, it would have been better to spend the time working on practising over and over how to count out simple amounts of money and using role play exercises. To add - experiential learning is very much of the ASN experience, there is a lot that schools get right. Where it goes wrong, is in the drive to satisfy local authority statistics, pupils with ASN are being directed to "pass" National 2 and 3 qualifications, with many of them not grasping the concept of what this piece of paper that would arrive through their door some months later supposedly meant. One size does not fit all. It is about equity in education and the current curriculum and qualifications claims to allow for a more creative learning experience when in fact the absolute opposite is what is happening in schools. 

So, how are teachers finding this brave new approach to education in Scotland? Only this week I read of a teacher here in Fife who had chosen to go public about the abject failings of the system and the demoralised feelings amongst teaching staff. Any number of blogs, online forums and newspapers will tell you how teachers in Scotland are feeling about the direction of travel. The Dunfermline teacher chose to forgo anonymity and wrote that an education system that is "utterly broken" - extremely damning words, but words I cannot disagree with. He writes that education here has gone into "unprecedented decline" and described the curriculum as "sub-standard" and a "disaster" for pupils He is far from the only one, incidentally he is also a former member of the SNP. I know enough former colleagues who have been summing things up pretty much exactly the same as that, with many desperate to get out of the system. Imagine how parents across Scotland must feel reading those words? The system is a "disaster" and "sub-standard"? That is where we are. Scotland, once a world leader in education rankings (now falling down the International PISA scores) is failing its young people. 

Now to further compound this disaster a new flagship policy is being rolled out by the SNP Government which claims to give "sweeping new powers" to head-teachers, but will in fact do the opposite. The proposed new Regional Collaboratives will see regional directors for huge parts of the country (Fife for example is to be bunched in with Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and The Borders) who will report back to Education Scotland. Education Scotland? Yes, a quango of the Scottish Government - the organisation that also carries out HMIe school inspections. How convenient, directors will report back to the Scottish Government and there is no independence or system of checks and balances anywhere. Whilst the Scottish Conservatives have long considered that head-teachers should have more powers but these should give them some autonomy - not in turn just make them part of the food chain that leads right up to the door of the Education Secretary and in turn the SNP Government. (See the link to my earlier comments on this -

Over the past few weeks I have listened to proposals being floated by the Scottish Conservatives on the way forward for education and where our policy should go. The following are my thoughts, some are broadly reflective of my party's policy on education, some are my own opinions. Whatever avenue, we as a party, choose to pursue my word of caution to all policy makers is, and I speak here as a teacher, is we absolutely must keep in mind who will be directly affected by further change. We currently have a demoralised and demotivated teaching population, a shortage of teachers in key subjects, failure of a successful recruitment strategy and ridiculous bureaucracy on who can teach in Scotland (by an organisation that seems to be run with an attitude of downright arrogance towards anyone who did not qualify in Scotland as somehow not being quite up to standard). On that note I would like to see a revamping of the Curriculum for Excellence, I do not, at this stage advocate scrapping it, due to the aforementioned reasons. Soft-edged terms such as "successful learners" and "confident individuals" mean absolutely nothing if your child cannot read, write, add, subtract, recite and utilise their timetables and fluently speak English (and yes, here I refer to these absolutely ghastly attempts to impose some form of "Scots" as a spoken language rather than a dialect, onto pupils when they cannot even spell their name correctly). The overall holistic approach to teaching is important but if they are not up to scratch on literacy and numeracy when leaving primary school the reality is they are at a disadvantage. Life is tough, we need to equip youngsters for the world not for floaty ideals that do not work in the fast pace of industry. 

The National qualifications need a complete overhaul and rethink. In Scotland, unlike other parts of the world, we do not have more than one examinations board. Like everything else in Scotland we are in some sort of ongoing mindset whereby "one size fits all" is getting it right. Why can we not have differing examination boards? The current SQA sets exams then doesn't seem to know the criteria themselves for the standard required - I remember the example last year of a certain Arts subject (I shall define no further given where I worked is well known) whereby the Principal Teacher contacted the SQA asking for the standard for a pass at National 4 and the SQA was batting it back at the teacher, asking to see the work so they could see what the teacher was thinking a pass was. Is this really getting it right? The National 4 internal "assessment" should be scrapped and like the National 5 should have an external examination so that pupils have a sense of purpose, drive to achieve and a competitive edge (and yes, life is competitive), it gives all pupils a chance to really push and excel themselves. It also means that employers know that some sort of assessment has actually been completed. 

The suggestion has been made of schools, where they wish to, taking themselves out of local authority control. That I am deeply uncertain about. Whilst there is precedent for it in other parts of the UK I am left with concerns of the creation of a two-tier system that may discriminate against vulnerable pupils. If the money follows the child, as has been suggested, then there is the potential for it to work. I do believe it could but it goes back to by earlier point - any changes to the education system affect teachers and pupils, we need to err on the side of caution. It also raises concerns as to what happens to pupils with additional needs? Where will they go if a school opts out? Currently in Fife a system is run whereby ASN pupils are often taught in a Department for Additional Support (DAS) in the high school. This means there is inclusion where possible and it gives the possibility of ASN pupils accessing mainstream classes where appropriate. At this stage I would prefer a policy that will begin with a re-formulating of the Curriculum for Excellence, external examinations sat at the end of S4 in the National 4 qualification and a rethink on having pupils with additional needs being herded through National 2 & 3s which are often not conducive to their educational experience and their wider needs. 

I do believe head-teachers should have more power within their individual school. However, that has to come with a well-entrenched support structure for new head-teachers, it cannot be used as a stick to "blame" where the attainment gap is not closed according to the statistics of the day. Regional Collaboratives are centralisation by another name (centralisation being the pièce de résistance of the SNP Government) and are only going to engender less individualism and less creativity within a school. 

The challenges for the future of Scottish education are enormous. At the heart of it though, as I stated at the beginning of this article, is the young people themselves. They get one go at the educational journey and if government does not get it right for each and every child then that is failure. Failure that I do not believe can just be measured in abstract terms of quantitative data - it is failure for that individual and the consequences may last a lifetime. All politicians need to keep that in mind. 


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Childcare - Education - Resources - Centralisation

Since I wrote an extended blog post following the last meeting of the Education & Children's Services Committee at Fife Council I have written to the local media and issued a press release - on two topical issues, one of those being the increased provision for early years & staffing shortages. The second being the centralisation agenda of the SNP over the proposed changes to educational governance - something which I believe is about to create a huge democratic deficit, lack of transparency and accountability and will clip the wings of local government across Scotland. In light of the two strands, I shall pursue this post with a discussion on the changes to early years provision first and then move onto the ongoing centralisation agenda of the Scottish Government. Both of these I have covered in the above link so this post is more just to update readers on what I sent to the media by way of ensuring that the abject failures of the Scottish Government are once again highlighted. 

Early Years & Childcare (ELC)

From August 2020 children in Scotland from the age of 2 will be eligible for 1,140 hours of free childcare (30 hours per week). A consultation carried out last year by Fife Council indicated that out of 575 respondents, 883 would use the increase in hours - that is a take up rate of 65% and the majority of those stated they would wish to use Fife Council based facilities. Now where does this fit in regards to staffing? To manage this almost doubling of provision the Council has calculated it will require an additional 400-500 Early Years Officers (EYO). Under the current provision (640 hours) there is a total of 1,050 EYOs with 315 of them being supply staff (meaning staff with no contract - read, zero hours contract). 

My concerns over the increased hours (which I wrote about in my previous post but I will list here again for clarification) include:

1. If this is from 2 years old is it childcare or learning? Which do we, as a society, believe is correct? Many countries do not place their children into formal eduction until the age of 7. 
2. There is no "obligation" to place a child in ELC - but if a parent/carer does not, does this mean their child is "missing out"?
3. What real provisions are in place to ensure that those in the most deprived areas (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation - SIMD) of SIMD 1 & 2 are aware and know how to access this? Social isolation, single parent families and a lack of social mobility are all potential factors for youngsters to "drop out" of the system
4. This is a blanket scheme - everyone will receive this for free, is that right?
5. What about family? Does 30 hours per week of childcare mean that familial bonds with youngsters will not be as strong?
6. Being in childcare from the age of 2 creates a feeling of almost being "institutionalised" from a young age

Aside from these considerations the one that I would like answered, and which I asked of the Head of Education Services, is how is this going to be staffed? We are currently in the midst of a national staffing crisis in the recruitment of teachers due to years of complete failure by the Scottish Government to properly address this issue -  there are over 4,000 fewer teachers in Scotland than there was a decade ago when the SNP came to power. Education, they claim, is their number one priority - its just a shame that those are empty words, the facts do not corroborate the mantra. Teaching shortages are adversely affecting the educational opportunities of young people across Scotland from primary one through to school leavers. Only recently I spoke to a concerned parent where the school his daughter attends is not teaching an Advanced Higher in a subject that both the parents and the pupil were promised would go ahead. Instead, through a school cluster liaison process the pupil was to attend another school to take up the subject only to find nothing had been put in place and that school was also not teaching the Advanced Higher - due to staffing shortages. Only this week Trinity Academy in Edinburgh, one of Scotland's leading State schools, has issued a plea for two Maths teachers - vacancies, that despite advertising, it has been unable to fill. This is the state of education under the SNP in Scotland. This planned expansion of Early Years provision is all well and good but will there be the available staff? In effect the local authority, in this case, Fife Council, has to do the bidding of the Scottish Government, so it somehow has to find staff as the onus is on it provide the service. This leads me to the second area of discussion for this post.

Education Governance, Lack of Accountability and Centralisation

The dismantling of Scotland's regional police forces in 2013 (Police and Fire Reform [Scotland] Act 2012) is a shambolic failure of the SNP Government that we continue with to this day. The one, centralised police force (Police Scotland) has lurched from one crisis to another due to a lack of resources, lack of transparency and an ongoing process of centralisation. This word - centralisation, is what we have with the police and fire service and what we are about to see with education. Any claims that more powers are to be devolved to the local level is utter nonsense. Whilst the "Next Steps" paper of Cabinet Secretary, John Swinney, claims to be a "revolutionised approach to support and improvement in schools" (they have had ten years to do that but anyway...) it is instead, a plan to implement further centralisation by creating Regional Collaboratives - which for Fife will mean it is grouped in with Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and the Borders, all of whom will feedback to the Scottish Government through Education Scotland (a quango set-up by the Scottish Government). 

I proposed an amendment at Committee level for this decision in Fife to be put on hold until there had been further consultation with senior teaching staff and parents, however was informed this was not possible as the decision was required 10 days later. Two points need to be taken from this, the first being that, local government, in theory, is that councillors decide policy and officers execute policy - instead we have seen the exact opposite happen. Secondly, that local authorities across Scotland are left in a position now whereby they must do the bidding of the Scottish Government. It is not for them to decide local policy it is from them to implement the wishes of the SNP at Holyrood, no matter how local councillors or local people feel. Centralisation of all decision-making in Scotland has been the theme of this Scottish Government now for a decade and the result of it being that there is a gradual erosion of local authority input. Whether it be the disassembling of regional police forces or the creation of education regions, the message is clear - it is not about power being devolved but rather power being grabbed and held onto by a tight leash from a central point - the SNP Government at Holyrood. 

My comments on the expansion of the Early Years & Childcare proposals appeared in both the Fife Free Press and the Fife Herald and my letter on centralisation was printed in the Fife Herald, Central Fife Times, Glenrothes Gazette and the Fife Free Press. 

The text of the letter reads:

Last week, Fife Council’s Education & Children’s Services Committee met to address a number of key topics, one of which is the proposed change to Educational Governance in Scotland. Following a decade of the Scottish Government’s abject failings in education another project to alter the structure of education is on the table.

In September 2016 the Scottish Government began a review that sought views on how education in Scotland is run. What it did not state though was that, like everything else in Scotland, the decisions were already in the making. In June of this year a paper entitled Next Steps was published, claiming that there would be a “revolutionised approach to support and improvement in schools” – neatly sidestepping the unfortunate fact that the SNP have had a decade to do this already.

Fife Council has to respond to this, or rather implement the wishes of the Scottish Government. The major proposal is that Fife will be grouped with Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and the Borders in a large ‘regional collaborative”. Expressing my deep concerns about this proposal, the lack of wider consultation with senior teaching staff and most importantly, parents, I put forward an amendment to hold this back until further consultation.
Council officers advised this was not possible as the decision had to be made by September 8th.

Therefore, parents in Fife need to be aware that this move will further distance local people from the services that affect them directly and impact upon the future educational opportunities of their children. I understand that Fife Council, like all local authorities in Scotland must do the bidding of the Scottish Government. However, the theory of local government is that councillors decide policy and officers execute policy. Instead we have just witnessed the opposite. Make no mistake: the centralisation agenda of the SNP marches on and the democratic deficit at the local level continues to grow.

Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Burntisland, Kinghorn & Western Kirkcaldy


Monday, 11 September 2017

Drugs, Alcohol and Psychotherapies (DAPL) - Last Friday

Last Friday I was invited to attend an open day in Leven, hosted by Fife's Drugs, Alcohol and Psychotherapies (DAPL) organisation. The event was held in the morning and originally I had envisaged a quick half hour visit, however, I was completely overwhelmed and ultimately, inspired by the work that DAPL does.

In this post I am going to provide an overview of DAPL - using narrative from their literature then I will write a section on their work in schools - which is an area I am more familiar with and finally,  the invaluable work with those recovering from addiction - something I would like to bring my own thoughts and opinions too.

Inevitably this post is going to include some political postulating to it, I am a politician (albeit, a local government one) and I have opinions on where I believe things are working, where there is room for improvement and where the system is just not working. First though, I would like to make clear that any political opines are not in anyway reflective of the invaluable, admirable and inspirational work of DAPL's employees and volunteers. I have nothing but praise for them and thank everyone who took the time to speak to me on Friday morning.

DAPL: Who are they?
DAPL's mission statement reads: "offers one to one counselling, support, information and advice to individuals and families who are affected by substance abuse and live within Fife. The service is free and confidential and offered by experienced workers".

Originally formed in 1994 to cover the Levenmouth area they now provide services across Fife. DAPL is funded by Fife Council and Fife Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (additionally this year they have received funding from the new Pupil Equity Fund and Scottish Attainment Challenge via the Scottish Government).

DAPL has a team of fully trained counsellors who work with vulnerable people within the community who affected by addiction, this could be alcohol, drugs or substance misuse, services are confidential. Counsellors work with adults, young people and families. Some of the services they provide include working with individuals, running focus groups for those affected, awareness sessions and, in my opinion one of their most valuable services, they listen and work with local communities. Isolation blights the life of those affected by addiction and through education and working with local communities,DAPL can and does bring hope and change. To be part of a community and have an identity can break that cycle of being isolated and feelings of being worthless.

Adult Services: 
Counselling sessions tend to be weekly and last fifty minutes. The sessions can also, where appropriate, contain information on group work, motivational interviewing, support on blood borne viruses (HIV, Hep C) and ear acupuncture.
Premises are in Leven, Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy. Clients can meet at a GP surgery, council buildings and other voluntary sector agencies.
Here is a link for further information:

Services for Young People: 
Sessions may be for young people under 18 who are suffering from addiction themselves or are affected by addiction in a family member or peer. Young people are generally seen in school however, other arrangements can be made if this does not suit. Referrals may come from the school, police or family members. Services are confidential.
Here is a link for further information:

DAPL provides invaluable services in schools across Fife. In 2016-2017 all eighteen high schools in Fife, along with 25 primary schools, referred pupils to DAPL. Sessions are tailored to work with the individual young person or child. Young people may be referred to a DAPL counsellor due to anxiety, behaviour, family breakdown, sibling relationships, substance abuse within the family, bullying, low self-esteem - as you can see, a long list (and many more).

Throughout the morning I was struck by the stories from counsellors on real-life experience of working with affected youngsters in schools. As a teacher I have been exposed to working with children who have brought behaviours to the classroom that would not be considered to be the "norm" and whilst often as teachers we can become frustrated at unruly and seemingly undisciplined youngsters, one thing always stuck in my mind (which was particularly emphasised when I began working with pupils with additional support needs) - behaviour is a form of communication.

Misbehaviour in the classroom is rarely just someone wanting to be disruptive and naughty - there is far more going on, that for the most part of the time a teacher, seeing a pupil two or three times a week in a busy secondary school, will unlikely consider. This is in no way a slight, every teacher has had that moment when they have shut the classroom door at the end of a lesson and sighed with relief that the "bad pupil" won't be back until next week. However, what many seemingly unruly pupils are doing is often expressing, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety and stress due to what is either going on at home or within their peer groups (or lack of peer groups if they are being bullied and isolated or struggle to form relationships).

This can be when an organisation such as DAPL will step in. Their trained counsellors can work individually with young people in a setting that is comfortable to the client. A large part of their work is to build trust - a lack of trust with anyone seen to be in authority can be a major stumbling block with a young person and that takes time. I know myself from working with pupils with additional support needs that quite often it could take weeks or even months for a pupil to come round and not see the teacher as their enemy or foe. Unpredictable behaviour comes from fear and anxiety - thankfully, DAPL and other groups have people trained to work in such environments and develop those feelings of trust and safe space. Additionally, DAPL has two trained art therapists to work with pupils in a more creative environment where appropriate - recognising that there is no one size fits-all method of counselling.

Anyone over the age of 12 does not need parental consent to access counselling (although it is suggested that a significant adult is aware of it). Information that is shared is done so through seeking the agreement of the young person.

This year targeted funding has become available  for two primary schools in Fife, in both DAPL counsellors are now in place full-time. This funding has come from the Scottish Government Attainment Challenge and the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) - money directly granted to headteachers based on Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation indicators of pupils in school. This has meant that the two schools have an in-house full time counsellor. I had a lengthy conversation with DAPL counsellors based in both these schools and was struck by the referral rate of pupils across the primary years. Issues can range from anxiety, stress, neglect, family breakdown down, sibling relationship breakdown, to not "knowing" how to play and interact with peers. The work of the counsellors is fantastic and I could sense their dedication, energy and enthusiasm as I spoke to them both and that feeling of making a breakthrough when someone seems very far away inside themselves.

On a more politically orientated note, my question I left with was this - DAPL (and other counselling agencies) provide an invaluable service, but full-time counsellors are only in two primary schools in Fife (there are 141 primary schools across Fife), I know from personal experience in a high school that getting access quickly and frequently to dedicated counselling services for young people is not always so easy due to waiting times. Therefore, what about all the children and young people we are not reaching?

If the Scottish Government wants to continue to talk about Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) this cannot just be in regards to receiving the best educational opportunities possible (which I would seriously question given the chaotic implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and then the new National qualifications), but must also be in terms of offering sufficient support networks for pupils who need to access them. More than ever young people are faced with multiple peer pressures, many often ending up in the role of being a young carer,  social media and cyber-bullying, pressures to try out harmful substances, a lack of boundaries in the home, family breakdown  and a long, long list (far too long) of issues they carry with them into school. Whilst living in a household identified as being in SIMD 1 or 2 (the most deprived) carries a much higher risk of many of the above, affluence does not negate bullying, alcohol and substance misuse, parental absence, cyber-bullying and feelings of worthlessness. The simple fact is, schools - for the sake of pupils, and also very often teaching staff, who are ill-equipped to deal with the multiple and complicated experiences and feelings a young person brings to the classroom, need in-house counsellors such as those provided by DAPL. It is time this was recognised and addressed. Only then can we say we are getting it right for all young people. Additional funding needs to be made available to local authorities from the Scottish Government to train and employ staff in schools to be counsellors - until then, it is a fallacy to claim that GIRFEC is doing what it should be doing.

My final point to cover is one that I am most unfamiliar with and this is working with recovering addicts. DAPL has a dedicated Recovery Worker to do this. I am not going to make much further comment on this as I feel I simply, at this point, am not in a position of enough knowledge to write fluently on the subject. I will finish with a comment made not on Friday but on Saturday at a conference I attend where the Scottish Conservative MSP, Annie Wells spoke of addiction and recovery in Glasgow. There appears to be a system that is letting far too many down and where rather than recovery is is more "managing" an addiction. She spoke of methadone users who had been  prescribed it for 30 years. That is not right. That, to me, says something is very wrong in the system and that needs to be addressed. However, that is a discussion for somewhere else.

A key point from Friday is that we need to be proactive and not reactive - particularly when working with young people. If investment is made at a much earlier stage then many of the hurdles and the vicious cycle, whether it be of alcoholism, drug addiction, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, self-harming or other triggers, can be broken at a much earlier stage and ultimately, this will improve the long-term life chances for all.

Below are some photographs and also links to DAPL.


 With Diane and Graham
My words for the "recovery tree"

In the art therapy room

 Fife Councillors and DAPL staff and volunteers
Thoughts into words...

This lady (whose name escapes me) works in high schools 

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