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