In June 2019, Kier was appointed by Swansea Council to deliver a new £8m Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for the city. Amanda Taylor is the headteacher for Swansea PRU and Behaviour Support Unit and here, she explains how her dreams of building a purpose-built school is fast becoming a reality.
“There really is no feeling like it, when you know you have made a difference, however small to a child’s life. As a teacher, working with children with special educational needs, then within mainstream primary schools, then and now as the headteacher of Swansea’s PRU unit, you never lose sight of the importance of what you do – providing an educational experience that helps, supports and nurtures the next generation.
I took this position as headteacher of Swansea’s PRU after being impressed by Swansea Council’s innovative vision for the education of pupils educated other than at school. This included its commitment to improving the learning environment provided for pupils, and their understanding of how this can really help with inspiring students.
Our new building is just off of Cockett Road in Swansea and when complete, it will support children aged between 5-16 years old. It really feels like a bespoke building which will meet our needs and allow us all to feel safe, secure and valued – which is absolutely critical for the children we are teaching, as this can so often be lacking in other parts of their lives.
We have been working with Kier since they took over the project (the previous contractors went into administration) and the council to ensure this build is considered from the perspective of the pupils, and teaching staff. I truly feel that my opinion has counted throughout this project, I have drawn sketches on pieces of paper of how I envisage the building to look and work – big and small things – and they have been transformed into a real building which has endeavoured to provide real solutions to the issues that we currently experience in our existing buildings.
Throughout this project, I feel I’ve had a voice and that everyone and everyone genuinely wants to listen in order to get things right. A case in point, is the positioning of the building itself. We know many of our pupils suffer from mental health issues and anxiety, we wanted part of the building to look out on to the greenery and fields, and so we will now have windows that will allow pupils to do just that.
The building is higher than typical single-storey buildings to mitigate against our concerns of people gaining access to the roof. The layout allows us to offer bespoke spaces to meet the different ages and needs of the pupils and enables effective movement between classrooms and hallways. What’s more, the fittings within the building have also been carefully considered, including the design of the internal doors and the installation of carpets as opposed to hard floors to reduce noise. This was a particular request of our pupils when we consulted with them about what they wanted in the building.
This collaborative approach has meant that usability has been a real driving factor in decision-making – it’s not been looked at as a shell, a new building, but always from the perspective of the occupants that will be in the building – we have tried to consider how it will make people feel and what it will enable people to do at all stages of the design and build..
The new build has afforded us multiple classrooms, and additional rooms of differing sizes, which will allow us to cater for larger and smaller size groups and offer a greater range of learning and well-being experiences. We have spaces specifically for a greater range ofl curriculum activities, such as design technology and food technology. This way, we are fuelling opportunities for people, we aren’t just talking about what they can achieve, but by having these facilities on-hand we can tangibly show them.
We have also made sure that throughout the build our pupils have known, and where possible, been able to see the progress being made on their new school. The outbreak of COVID-19 has meant that pupils haven’t been able to visit the site, but we have been hosting virtual tours and site members have talked about how they started working in construction, with some pupils keen to explore apprenticeships as a result.
Pupils were also responsible for the name of the new school, which will be Maes Derw which translates to Oakfield – homage to the green views and oak trees in the grounds surrounding us. We also launched a competition asking pupils to design our new school logo. We had some fantastic designs, and the winning design features an oak tree. The new logo will eventually be a key feature of our new signage as pupils, staff and visitors enter the building. We also have other artwork that the schoolchildren have created that has been proudly displayed on the hoardings for the new school, that members of the local community have been able to view as they pass by.
This all matters. Our pupils can see that they are front and centre to all the decisions being made for their new school and when we have asked for their opinion, they have been engaged, forthcoming and have come up with some great ideas.
We are helping to shape lives by offering facilities that allow us to cater to individual needs, which may help them back in to mainstream schooling or support their future employment aspirations and opportunities.
The school I have dreamt about for our pupils is nearly here and I am incredibly grateful to and proud of everyone who has been involved.”