Levenmouth Academy: A school in crisis?

Levenmouth Academy
Levenmouth Academy

Action must now be taken to address a chronic discipline crisis at Levenmouth Academy.

That was the warning issued by unions which claim beleaguered staff are struggling to cope with violent and abusive behaviour at the new flagship school.

Following crunch talks with education chiefs last week, EIS and GMB will bring all their members together on campus tomorrow (Thursday) to air concerns.

David Farmer, publicity officer for EIS, said: “I would not want to make any comment at this moment about the role of any individual in the school or service but we would say that the period of ‘teething troubles’ is over.

“I think it’s very fraught. I think for any member of staff, whether teacher, single status worker, it’s not good for people to go to their place of work and feel anxious; that’s not a good place to be.

“We see Thursday as an opportunity to hear from the staff together about what they are feeling and what their concerns are.”

The £44m school, spawned by the merger of Kirkland and Buckhaven Highs, has been beset by violent incidents since it opened in August.

Parents had branded the school a “shambles” and concern reached new heights in October with the online posting of a 10-second video – since removed – of a male pupil committing a violent act against a female learner.

A social media frenzy prompted rector Ronnie Ross to issue a statement assuring the community that Fife Council’s disciplinary procedure was adequate.

Although the new school had experienced some diffculties, time was needed for pupils and staff to get accustomed to the scale of the new building, he commented.

“The bottom line is the school is extremely safe,” he insisted.

“It has more staff and more CCTV cameras than any other in Scotland.”

However EIS said this week that the union believed “discipline issues were not the result of scale”.

Over the past year Fife schools have adopted a ‘restorative approach’ to dealing with behavioural issues - if a pupil behaves unacceptably they are asked to make restoration to the person affected.

Mr Farmer said EIS, while supporting the method generally, had raised concerns about its effectiveness.

“We’ve obviously noted on a number of occasions there are going to be that small number of kids who are not going to engage with ‘restorative practice’ and there needs to be a plan in how to address that,” he said.

“At the moment it’s not clear to us what these measures are going to be.”

He added: “I think we are correct to say that we are getting to a point where something needs to happen - and we need to concentrate now in doing whatever it takes to move things forward and find a solution.”

GMB - which represents catering, cleaning and janitorial staff – said it too had been contacted by a number of members raising concerns about an increase in abusive incidents at the school.

The severity of cases was “obviously affecting staff’s stress levels”, said Annette Drylie and had prompted the union to ask Fife Council to bring in its corporate health and safety team.

Strike action, while not on the cards, had not been outruled.

“This is above and beyond teething troubles.” she added.

Levenmouth Academy was formed from the first merger of its kind in 30 years, and possibly the biggest merger to a single-site school in Scotland.

Mr Ross, former rector of Kirkland High School, was appointed headmaster but key senior members of staff didn’t follow him – a mistake, according to a source.

He said: “I think it’s getting close to meltdown because the staff are looking for leadership.

“The school needs extra resources, senior management, that could stabilise the situation and take things forward.

“I think there’s a lack of unity amongst the staff; that staff there don’t want to be there. Equally, senior staff from Kirkland didn’t transfer.

“A nicer guy you could not meet but Ronnie Ross is struggling to cope with a team which is not 100 per cent behind him. Some members of staff are not giving him the support he deserves.”

The source added methods of dealing with pupils with persistant behavioural issues were “far too liberal”.

“If an extraordinary set of circumstances mean we have to spend an extra £200,000 over the next three years to set it right, we need to do that,” he commented.

Derek Brown, head of service for Fife Council, said the meeting last week had taken place in response to “a concern raised with senior officers of Fife Council”.

He added: “We met with trade union representatives and it was a very productive meeting, in which we agreed to work together to resolve a number of current issues that staff feel need to be addressed.

“We want to make sure that the school is getting the right support from us and today’s meeting has clarified a constructive way forward.”