Education Quandary

'I have a boy in my Year Five class whose stammer is getting worse. I want to encourage his parents to get him treatment, but don't know what's possible'
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The Independent Online
'I have a boy in my Year Five class whose stammer is getting worse. I want to encourage his parents to get him treatment, but don't know what's possible'

HILARY'S ADVICE

Before you do anything, make sure you have the detail to back up your concerns. Work out exactly why you think there is a problem, and note situations where it shows itself and how it seems to be getting worse. This sort of monitoring is necessary whenever a pupil's behaviour is causing concern – otherwise you are left talking only about hunches and general impressions.

Then seek advice. What does your school's special-education needs code of practice say about how to proceed with this? If it lays down that it should be dealt with by the head, or the person responsible for special needs (the Senco), or you in combination with one or both of them, then you must follow it. The procedures are there precisely because these sorts of issues need to be handled with sensitivity and experience, and can be too much for a non-specialist class teacher to tackle alone.

However, if you are in a small school it may fall to you to meet with the child's parents. If so, make sure that you start on a positive note, says Cherry Hughes, an education officer for the British Stammering Association and a former headteacher. Praise a piece of his work or talk about how well he has done something. Then, very tactfully, raise the school's concerns.

His parents may need time to watch their son at home and see what they think about the situation, but if they decide they want their son to receive help, explain to them that there is a free and accessible speech and language therapy service that their son can be referred to, Cherry Hughes advises. But be reassuring. Explain that it is nothing like going to the dentist.

Most services will have someone who specialises in stammering, although how well therapy works can be unpredictable. Best results tend to come if a child is treated at the pre-school stage. However, there are a number of commercial programmes that claim success with adult stammerers, such as the McGuire Programme, recently taken up by the pop star Gareth Gates.

As his teacher, keep tabs on how things are going for him, and in class take any necessary steps to help him, maybe by asking him to answer first, rather than making him endure the agony of waiting, or by giving him time to prepare an oral answer, rather than dropping questions on him out of the blue.

More help is available from www.stammering.org and Stammering: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Other Professionals by L Rustin et al, published by David Fulton Books.

READERS' ADVICE

I wonder if the teacher could suggest the parents take their child to see a good homeopath. There are many homeopathic remedies that could help, and I would expect to see improvements in the little boy's confidence and speech within a few weeks of treatment. To find the name of a fully registered and insured local homeopath, contact the Society of Homeopaths on 01604 621400.

JAne Hurley RSHom, Devon

This boy is lucky that someone cares. Over 60 years ago I had a teacher who allowed other children in my class to tease me and make fun of my stammer. This went on for a whole year and completely destroyed my confidence. After that I never did well at school, even though other teachers were kinder and encouraged me. Only years later did I find the courage to return to my studies, via correspondence courses. When I tell my grandchildren about what went on they are horrified. I hope that means schools are better places now.

Sydney Railsworth, Lancashire

It is not your job to know what the possibilities are, or what might be helpful. Specialist services exist for this sort of problem, and only the experts in those services are qualified to give this sort of advice. In fact, you could very easily make things worse. Therapy of all kinds works differently for different people, and you could be raising false hopes if you told these parents otherwise.

Mari Kadinski, London

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

My son is seven and struggling to read. He is making no progress that we can see. But his school seems to think that we are making a fuss. They say that it is quite normal for some children to come late to reading. Aren't they being too laid back? Shouldn't we be doing something to help him? Otherwise he is going to drop further and further behind.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 12 May, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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