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New school plagued with behavioural issues ‘not fit for purpose’ – teachers union

12 Jan 2024 4 minute read
School attendance is improving across Cardiff schools since the pandemic, statistics show, but it is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter

A new secondary school, where some teachers are locking the doors of their classrooms to keep themselves and pupils safe, is “not fit for purpose” according to representatives of a teachers union.

Teachers at Pencoedtre High School in Barry went on strike this week due to the behaviour of some pupils who are subjecting them and other staff to verbal and physical abuse.

A Vale of Glamorgan Council learning and culture scrutiny committee meeitng, held on Thursday January 11, heard how there have been 136 exclusions at the school since September 2023.

Open plan design

Representatives of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said the open plan design of the school is contributing to poor behaviour there.

Interim headteacher at Pencoedtre High, Debra Thomas, admitted that it was “painful” to say that the “design of the building is quite a big issue”.

The new Pencoedtre High School building, which opened in 2022, cost more than £33m to build.

Another issue raised by staff is the central location of the schools successful futures centre (SFC), which allows large groups of children to mix and results in altercations and poor behaviour.

The SFC is a hub that is dedicated to supporting pupils at the school and helping them to develop skills with a bespoke curriculum.

National executive member of NASUWT for counties in South East Wales, Mark Morris, said: “The design of new school buildings is remarkably poor. They are designed as if they are office spaces and they are not.”

Mr Morris’ colleague, Sharron Daly, said union members at Pencoedtre High are taking industrial action because “they feel at the end of their tether” over behaviour issues.

She added: “The building is not fit for purpose.

“Whatever the outcome of today’s discussions, the physical make up of the building is not going to help this situation… and the situation needs to change.”


Interim headteacher at Pencoedtre High, Ms Thomas, said the issue of children not attending lessons without permission is multi faceted and complex.

She went on to say that the nature of the school building is “very open” and that this “facilitates large groups to form”.

Ms Thomas added: “There is a commitment to [bring in] extra staffing to [assist] with… breaking these numbers of students apart.

“Getting suitable staff… is a problem, but it is something the school is committed to doing.”

Vale of Glamorgan Council’s director for learning and skills, Paula Ham, said the council has been in discussion with the school and that it is committed to doing the work to move the SFC hub.

However, she added that this process is “not going to happen quickly” as the local authority has to identify funding, and go through a procurement and planning process.

A member of the learning and culture scrutiny committee, Cllr Emma Goodjohn, said: “It does seem that the authority are trying their best here to find resolutions.”

On the SFC hub, she added: “There are planning laws and things like that, so it is very difficult to push it forward.”


NASUWT teachers union national official for Wales, Neil Butler, said “You can’t knock down that building and start again.”

Mr Butler went on to say that union members at the school need to be made to feel that they are safe at the school immediately, adding: “All you need is responsible adults who are trained… boots on the ground to make sure that all of the learners are where they should be.”

Ms Daly said that if discipline is not addressed at the school, members will strike again.

Chair of the council’s learning and culture scrutiny committee, Cllr Rhys Thomas said: “It was sobering to hear about the violence and intimidation that teachers at Pencoedtre are facing on a daily basis.

“Teachers are having to lock doors to keep themselves and pupils safe – this situation cannot go on.

“The Vale Council and Welsh Government need to take this seriously and get a grip of the situation urgently.”

The scrutiny committee are looking to arrange a visit to the school in order to better understand some of the issues there.

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Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
5 months ago

Waw, I know teaching is a hard job and I am probably out of touch having been retired 15 years. I am also old enough to remember the days when Heads held full school assemblies every morning and then pupils marched off to their classrooms to start their respective days learning. A far too rigid a system some said because pupils had very little say in what was happening. If a child mitched a lesson everyone knew what the consequences would be yet today missing lessons is described as “the issue of children not attending lessons without permission is multi… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
5 months ago
Reply to  Iago Traferth

You are spot on! Sadly, far too much bad behaviour is being tolerated by school managements and the political establishment, which is not teaching the children the correct way to behave in life. We need a return to firm expectations – and sanctions – that are fully enforced. Tolerating and excusing indiscipline is not helping children, it is just creating a culture of incorrigible entitlement. It is also disrupting lessons for the children who want to learn. I have been teaching for many years and I have seen behaviour decline rapidly in the last decade. It is not because of… Read more »

5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

You can’t get the worst offenders removed anymore because the heads lack the powers to do so and there are not enough spaces in the PRU’s. Worse if a parent refuses, you can’t do anything about it. I’ve seen cases of kids with more than 150 recorded cases of the most defiant and obnoxious and disruptive behaviour in the space of six months – which represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was not recorded – still in school and receiving support that is woefully inadequate in addressing said behaviour. Absolutely soul destroying and I’ve seen many… Read more »

Another Richard
Another Richard
5 months ago

Who chose to build a school that is “not fit for purpose”, and on what basis and why? I think we should be told.

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
5 months ago

Westminster’s fault.

Another Richard
Another Richard
5 months ago
Reply to  Rhddwen y Sais

Really? “Westminster” provided the specification and chose the design for a school and imposed it on a Welsh local authority? Pull the other one… the problem surely lies much closer to home and those who made the bad decisions should take responsibility for them.

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