IT CELEBRATED its official launch last Friday. But Seamab school has already been on a long journey from its inception as a special needs residential school in 1988. The roll is tiny, just 15 primary-age pupils. Most come from backgrounds of drug abuse, alcohol dependency or both. Most have been abused or neglected as children, which is why all of them have huge problems with their behaviour.

Anne Anderson, the principal since 1995, is not your normal "headie". She thinks the most important lesson the school can impart is that adults can be OK after all; adults can love them and they can safely love the grown-ups back. She's big on cuddles, too, is this remarkable woman.

One child, due to be referred from Orkney, was withdrawn when the local authority read in the school brochure that hugs were well up the daily menu. Given Orkney's recent history, you might understand their hesitance.

"What can you do?" asks Anderson. "You have a wee wean sobbing its heart out on the floor and the only thing to be done is to get down there with them and hug them. Everybody needs cuddles."

What Seamab is trying to do, she explains, is restore the ability to bond, to form attachments, which is normally learned by babies and toddlers in families where there is natural love and loving.

"Recent research has shown that you can restore and renew that missing bond; join up bits of the brain that let you form attachments.

"Our staff now go through what's known as the Dan Hughes training method, but, in truth, that just reinforced what I always believed.

"Now there's all kinds of theoretical back up and validation to this kind of work. Before, all we thought we were doing was loving our kids."

Some take a bit of loving. When distressed they're liable to bite, kick and scream and try to damage whatever or whoever is to hand. "What you have to understand is that often with one child you're actually dealing with four different people, "Anderson, observes.

"There will be the child who is 10-years old, but has an emotional age of 18 months, an educational age of eight and a streetwise age of 14. You need to gauge which facet of that child you're dealing with and respond accordingly."

The original Seamab school in Perthshire was an old house with outbuildings. Children lived and went to school on the same premises. "I didn't think it was right. It was too institutional. We looked at all kinds of solutions. Then The Hollies came on the market."

Near Kinross, it had been a private home with bedrooms and bathrooms in four adjoining buildings around a central courtyard. A huge bonus was a swimming pool. "Awonderful thing for children when they're feeling stressed or upset."

The bedrooms were converted to classrooms, the four-car garage made into a games room, thanks to Children in Need, and an outdoor games space made possible by the rugby charity Wooden Spoon.

The children now live in bungalows where five of varying ages live and eat and play alongside three adults by day and two overnight. For obvious reasons, the adult to pupil ratio is high.

"These kids have been through so much. One had had nine failed foster placements by the time he was six. Another had four go wrong in a week. They need a lot of love and support."

They get it too. "It usually takes us about three years to help them move on. A year to convince them we can be trusted, a year to teach them skills, and a year to help them on to the next stage in their lives."

Staff seem signed up to the "extra mile" philosophy and a supportive board raises funds to train those who have the temperament but need formal qualifications.

One teacher, worried about a child going on to a school in a strange area, rented a flat for a week and stayed with him till he got settled.

Staff also raised funds and twice took children to Disneyland in Paris. "It started as a plan to take them to Cumbernauld airport for the day, but somehow it grew."

Anderson, has four grown-up sons of her own, three of whom were young enough to live in Seamab when the school became a 52-weeks-a-year establishment and she chose to live in.

It doesn't seem to have done her own family much harm; two of her sons also now work in the care business. Anderson joined Seamab as a teacher from mainstream with no special-needs experience.

She's been principal - and principle inspiration - for 17 years. You try to find a polite way of asking her why she's not a basket case. "People keep saying I should be burnt out by now, but why would I be? I love what I do. I love the fact that we can make a difference here.

"These are children who have been damaged. Some of them won't ever heal properly. Over the years, I've known of two who committed suicide.

"We know that for others, their years at Seamab have been the happiest they've known, which in some respects is very sad. But others survive and thrive and stay in touch."

What Anderson does by way of rest and recreation is take herself off to a Scottish island where she has a house.

Typically she'll have some Seamab kids in tow, making it something of a busman's holiday. "Well, they love the island.

"Anyway, what would I be doing without them? I don't fancy taking up knitting again."