BY CRISTINA ODONE
"PROBLEM" STUDENTS WHO
risk exclusion from school will undergo behaviour modificadon at the country's first-ever Catholic behaviour support unit, which opens next week in Birmingham.
The unique centre a kind of Catholic boot camp was set up by the Diocesan Schools Commission, Birmingham LEA and Birmingham Catholic Schools Partnership, and aims to teach potential exclusions religious education and national curriculum as well as offer intensive behaviour therapy. After their four-week rehabilitation, students will celebrate their return to school with a special Mass.
Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville of Birmingham will officially open the Zacchaeus centre, which has been set up in the inner city St Catherine's church, on 29 November.
The initiative, jointly funded by the Birmingham LEA and the Partnership, will run for two years and will focus on only secondary school exclusion. Out of 150200,000 primary and secondary school children in Birmingham, there are 380 permanent exclusions.
The new centre is seen as a pilot for a potential nationwide network of Catholic behaviour modification units.
John Hall Professor of RE at Birmingham University told the Catholic Herald that "the idea of combining religious education with behavioural modification is intriguing — especially at a time when so many people are aware of the terrible moral vacuum in which we live." Professor Hall went on to describe the unit as "an exciting attempt to give young people a chance to break the terrible cycle of hopelessness that leads to and results from exclusion."
The Head of the Centre, Moyra Healy, said this week "Excluded pupils are at risk of educational failure, with serious consequence for their future lives. Our duty of care to our children extends to making every effort to ensure they stay in school. This new centre offers them the support they need within the Catholic framework which their parents have chosen for their education."
The head of Birmingham's LEA Support Services, Bill Snowden, told the Herald that the LEA had decided to establish a preventive cure to the "steadily increasing problem of exclusion: we argued that what these young, disaffected people needed was a great deal of attention, a support in learning better communication skills and for those who had a Catholic background a greater understanding of the Catholic ethos. The centre is based on a view that exclusion simply transfers problems somewhere else."
Mr Snowden said that Catholic educationalists in the Archdiocese had been eager to "study the work we were carrying out in our Behaviour Support Services to see whether it could be adapted to a Catholic context. From the outset, they wanted to find a way to incorporate Catholic teaching into a rehabilitation therapy that would change the whole person."
Mr Snowden stressed that the Catholic heads who had first mooted the idea of a rehabilitation centre "steeped in the Catholic ethos" had been "very enthusiastic all along, and hopeful that this idea would travel well outside the specific geographical and religious context of the Zacchaeus Centre."
The Director of Westminster Diocese Education Service Anthony Mackensie told the Catholic Herald that "the concept is well-worth examining and it will be interesting to see if their methodology could be used elsewhere."But Mr Mackensie pointed out that in a diocese such as Westminster, with 18 LEAs and more than 130 schools, "The sheer multiplicity of authorities and of schools would make it very complex indeed to establish such support centres."
Chief Education Officer Professor 'I'im Brighouse said, "This is an excellent venture which illustrates a community of schools getting together to take on board collective responsibility for the future of all their pupils."