North West Wales

Canine teachers at Ysgol Bryn Elian nominated for award

One of the dogs which visits the unit
Image caption Using the dogs has a calming influence according to teachers

Canine teachers used by a school in Conwy county to help children with behavioural or learning difficulties have been nominated for an award.

Barney, Wizz and Tully are short-listed for a "dogged devotion award" after being nominated by a teacher at Ysgol Bryn Elian in Old Colwyn.

Maggie McManus, who runs the unit at the school, said the the dogs are used to help boost self-confidence and even improve pupils' reading skills.

The award is run by the Dogs Trust.

The unit at the school deals with between 20 and 30 children in years 7 to 11, who are at risk of being excluded from school because of behaviour and learning problems.

The pupils learn how to train the dogs, boosting their self-confidence and a number of them also read to the dogs as a way of improving their reading skills.

Dog handler Eryl Restall was originally invited into Ysgol Bryn Elian simply to demonstrate how she trained her animals.

One year 10 pupil who struggles with reading, says he is happy to read with golden retriever Tully and said the dog had made a big difference.

"Tully's quite relaxed so that makes me quite relaxed so I can read more clearly to people.

"My spelling has come on as well because I'm reading more and my English and work has been boosted up a couple of levels."

Ysgol Bryn Elian's Pupil Support Centre offers specialist help to those with behaviourial, social and emotional problems.

Confidence building

Maggie Mcmanus, who runs the unit, quickly realised the dogs offered something more.

"Stroking the dogs has had the most amazing effect on them and I've never seen anything like it in 20 years of teaching," she said.

"A lot of issues that they have are to do with self confidence and self esteem and the dogs do reduce the stress levels.

"The curriculum is more accessible to the kids, they build their confidence and they achieve far, far better."

Another pupil said she disliked school and once had an appalling attendance record.

But she has dreams of a career working with dogs, and is learning to train Barney as a reward for turning around her attitude to school.

"If the dogs aren't in. I do my work because I know they are going to be coming in some time that week and that's my reward," she said.

"I now have a chance to go to sixth form which I would really like to do.

"I've completed my work, I'm up to Cs in my GCSE work which I never thought I would get."

Eryl Restall goes into the school three times a week on a voluntary basis.

For her this has been the chance to teach the pupils about how to treat dogs - but she says she has been amazed by the results.

"There's a case for looking at dogs for the disabled or guide dogs and having their puppy walkers take them into schools," she said.

"Having the kids invested in the training of these dogs that help people means when they are out and about in their community in years to come and they see that dog they can say 'I helped that person have a better life'."

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