Learning coaches need a thick skin

More than 500 qualified learning coaches from accredited courses are now operating in Wales's schools and colleges.

Learning coaches are intended to be the lynchpins of the skills-led crusade of the 14-19 learning pathways, key players in the battle to stop disaffected teenagers dropping out of education or employment, and helping more able students reach the height of their chosen vocations by making the right choices early on.

But Professor Danny Saunders of the University of Glamorgan reports that learning coaches have been exposed to abuse and violence from parents. They are also fearful of false accusations when left alone with pupils. This is something teachers face every day - it is, sadly, nothing new.

However, Professor Saunders also reports how some have faced the wrath of teachers. Their relationships with school staff, he reports, have sometimes been awkward, at other times aggressive.

Change can often bring mistrust, especially in a profession already overwhelmed with Assembly government initiatives. It seems the learning coaches - especially those working with failing schools - have taken the brunt of teachers' frustrations with endless diktats.

But Professor Saunders makes a poignant point, criticising "hasty recruitment" which could have led to mistakes in the selection of the first trainees for the job in 2005. Only the best and most able should apply for this all-important role. A thick skin might be added to the job description considering the teething problems.

Qualified teachers who already have a strong pastoral role would seem to be the best candidates, although that should not rule out non-teaching professionals, to whom those teenagers who have a problem with authority might respond better.

There is a lot to be sanguine about.

To outsiders, the learning coach could be a great ally of teachers - not an enemy - as trust is earned.

We must ensure more coaches of the right calibre and attitude are trained to ensure the success of the skills revolution. And it should be a requirement that individual sessions are not conducted behind closed doors - to protect both coach and pupil.

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