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Gentle answer to bad behaviour

I WAS horrified at the implications of "A better class of behaviour" (EDUCATION, 11 March).

My son was just like "Georgia": aggressive, uncomfortably vigorous to the point of hurting us and our friends in minor ways, constantly saying "No", constantly erupting, kicking, etc, a determined little world dominator. He was exhausting, and pushed us to the limit of our parenting skills. Interwoven with this he was as sweet as you could wish. In fact, a pretty normal three-, four- and five- year-old, a real handful.

We learnt in the end that he was instantly worse if anything frightened him, and that he scared very easily. The breakthrough was to realise that our daytime volcano was timid at night. We censored the TV more strictly around scary stuff for a year or two, which helped a lot. We laid on lots of extra soothing cuddles, holding the roaring body firmly, but letting him completely rip. We moved away sometimes, if we had to for our own comfort, but went back to him every few minutes "to see if he'd finished being angry yet" without at all implying he was wrong to be so.

When he was a bit bigger, he showed us he wanted to erupt by himself, on the other side of the room, "in private". As his language improved, we could talk about it with him, both seriously and jokingly.

Gradually, gradually he gained control, until we felt he was robust enough for us to say (but only sometimes) "Oh no, not AGAIN, love," as he started roaring.

We introduced the issue of our comfort like this, and by six years old, he mainly went off to explode in his room, though he knew he could share it with us if he really needed to. He does seem to need lots of privacy. The more he learned skills to shape his world and gain control, the more peaceful he became, and now at eight, it's very occasional - about as often as our own tempers.

Our son was so very lucky. We never sent him to school, partly because we suspected that he wouldn't get properly respected on this issue - although we didn't realise just how bad it would have been until we read this article.

Poor, poor baby "Georgia". She really doesn't sound abnormal, just tiring for her carers, and for herself as she goes through this. Just like our lovely son, who now is widely recognised as unusually bright, articulate and socially skilled. Yet that poor little girl is being labelled, categorised, put on a special programme ...

Why can't she just go to school when she's older and more confident? She has been going to school for limited hours, but the pressure is obviously on to push her into full-time attendance. Whatever for, if she's so clearly too young?

Why does "Georgia" have to "practice writing" if she doesn't enjoy it enough, or feel safe enough, to do it without constant carer input?

"She becomes loudly, uncontrollably and inconsolably distressed over small things." The photo also shows us a distressed child, red, crying and hiding her face. "Georgia" is SCARED, and she needs to stay in a smaller, safer place until she feels less scared, until she herself feels curious and excited about going to school for a few hours a day.

Maybe her mum is scared, too. Tell her mum to hang in there, trust her kid, and keep cuddling. If she can, arrange childcare at home. Take her to a local kids' project once a week, swimming at after school time, or to the after-school play club, which will be less demanding, and only two-hour sessions. Most of all, trust "Georgia", keep hugging her, and wear a medal.

SHAN JAYRAN

London SW12

I HAVE just been through the disruptive behaviour scenario with my four- year-old son, which involved a visit to an educational psychologist. She spent some time "testing" him. He was above-average in most areas, but the school was having problems dealing with him at times.

He is a sensitive, perceptive, intense, creative and intelligent child. I feel schools are moving towards a factory-style education system, where both below- and above-average children are too time-consuming in the rush to attain some mythical and magical educational targets.

My son now is no trouble at school, as the teachers have been counselled on how to get non-conformist children to behave better at school, and not disrupt others. But this begs the question whether all schools should have a counsellor available for children and, just as importantly, for the teachers.

We should not expect teachers to be experts in child behaviour-management, and rather than children being excluded from school, which generally consigns them to the educational dustbin, we should encourage these difficulties to be solved, and not buried or ignored.

And please let us not forget, they are just small children: they must be allowed to have a childhood!

RAFIQ MANJI

Canonbury

London N1

Pupils with bad behaviour problems do as your article says "demand a huge amount of time and skill" and parents/ helpers in schools can be a complement to the professionals involved.

The child's parents in your article should be congratulated for working in partnership with the school since a child needs to know that all involved are working together for a common purpose. Good role-modelling, praise and awards for good behaviour build self-esteem and confidence.

Mrs MAUREEN CLARK

Pontefract

W Yorkshire

Facing up to the problem

I have just read "Mind their language please" (EDUCATION, 11 March).

If all prams and pushchairs were made so that children faced their mothers, the opportunities for talking and listening would be increased by hours every day.

And there would be fewer blank-faced, bored mums and babies in the high street.

Mrs SONIA SUPPLE

Cambridge

Too little, too late

With reference to your article "A steep learning curve in rebranding FE" (EDUCATION, 11 March)

As a graduate engineer, and a former further education lecturer with 11-years' full-time experience teaching electronics and related topics at a college on Merseyside, I have the following comments to make.

The sad fact is that further education, as a concept, has been all but destroyed. What is the point of vocational education, at 16-plus, when the vast majority of our students are unlikely to gain employment in their chosen vocational area upon qualifying? What is the point of offering a GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualification) course, in any topic area, when it is expected that every student will gain a pass, irrespective of effort or ability? What is the point of an education sector where lecturers are being told that if students fail, it is the lecturers' fault? All students must pass, or else! What is the point of offering GNVQ courses at colleges when the students themselves change the meaning of the initial letters GNVQ to stand for: "Good for the not very quick"?

I left the profession in August 1996 because I believed in the quality of the BTEC National Diploma, flawed though it was. And I was not prepared to sign the new, so-called Professional Academic Contract. In my opinion, 18 hours of directed study on a GNVQ programme does not amount to a full- time course. When I joined the profession in September 1985, my full-time BTEC National Diploma students enjoyed 28 hours of directed study, plus a tutorial, on what was a quality course.

Thirty years ago, when I myself was a full-time FE student at Fleetwood Nautical College, studying to be a merchant ship's radio officer, the term full-time study meant at least 30 hours of directed work per week; that is 30 hours-plus of lecturer-to-student class contact. My vocational examinations were truly national, in the sense that they were both externally set and externally marked; and every marine radio student in the whole of the UK followed the same syllabus, and took the same examinations.

MICHAEL C KNOWLER

Southport, Merseyside

Much too much, much too young

As Maureen O'Connor strongly implied in her excellent article, "The worst years of their lives?" (EDUCATION 25 February), perhaps we should have a real debate as to whether forced early learning is compatible with the subsequent quality of life of both children and their parents.

Far from learning the qualities of "self-reliance, self-determination and mutual support", a phrase that trips extremely lightly from the lips of politicians, it is my experience that pupils really feel disenfranchised, unempowered and convinced of the personal fruits of competition rather than co-operation - a process which is only emphasised and encouraged by the increasingly young age at which children are being pushed towards formal "schooling".

Does the drive to have very young children at "school" best serve the purposes of education, or of the Treasury, which is then sooner able to tax two parental incomes?

MALCOLM MUCKLE

fireflies@easynet.co.uk

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Please remember to include a daytime telephone number. You can also fax letters to EDUCATION on 0171-293 2451; or e-mail them to: educ@independent.co.uk

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