Ground control for the mentors

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Pilot school gives learning coaches walkie-talkie back-up

WALKIE-TALKIES have been issued to teachers at a pilot school for learning coaches, the new personal trainers of 14 to 19-year-olds in Wales. The idea is that staff facing disruptive, violent or tearful teenagers should radio for help from one of three on-site mentors.

Coedcae school, in Llanelli, used a grant of pound;146,000 over two years from the Raise Fund, available to schools with more than 20 per cent of pupils on free school meals, to create the new learning posts last September One is a former teacher, one used to be a key skills tutor in a college and the other has a background in mental health. Together they form the team tackling bad behaviour and pupil underachievement at the 1,000-plus-pupil school for 11 to 16-year-olds in the deprived area of west Wales.

The recruits have received no formal training and are learning on the job.

Learning coaches have been brought into schools across Wales to take over the previous non-academic roles of teachers and heads of year. At Coedcae, two have been briefed to tackle bad behaviour - the school admits it has its fair share of "challenging pupils". The third coach in the all-woman crew focuses on raising key skills. Julie James, who coaches around 40 children in Years 9 and 10, says her new job has been a learning curve.

"We explain that we are not teachers," she said. "I've been working closely with the children and they are responding. We focus on what's happening in their lives outside school as we know it will affect their attitude."

Joanna Davies, the school's other behaviour coach, deals with younger pupils in Y78. Alongside them is Carol Jones, brought in to improve the lowest-achieving pupils' key skills. "I seek out pupils at risk of leaving school without qualifications," said Mrs Jones. "I follow their coursework and arrange help if necessary."

Mrs Jones, formerly a key skills tutor at Gorseinon college, Swansea, works with those who lack communication, application of number and ICT skills.

Pupils meet with their learning coach at least once a fortnight. Some have daily contact. They use a points system to chart progress. But, because the system is so new, they are constantly evaluating their methods. Inspection body Estyn also monitors their work.

Head Harvey Jones said: "We target pupils in the bottom 20 per cent academically or behaviourally."

Rob Davies, the deputy head who oversees the coaches, said the new posts had helped free teachers from pastoral care. Pupils in need are identified at cluster primaries, ahead of their arrival at Coedcae.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "All learning coaches will over time be required to undertake the bespoke training developed as part of the Learning Pathways ESF project - 240 learning coaches are undertaking the first cohort of training."

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