Headteacher calls for funding guarantees for Southway Hub teaching challenging young people "who deserve better"

When the head-teacher says “you have to really want to work here” and the school’s own designated police officer admits students have been involved in crime and he has arrested their parents in the past - you’d be forgiven for thinking the Southway Hub is the place to send ‘naughty’ kids in Leeds.

By Emma Ryan
Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 4:45 am

However, while it does teach some of the city’s most challenging students, it is also helping to transform outcomes for students who have suffered chaotic and complex family backgrounds, who have mental health struggles, who have special needs educationally and who actually just don’t thrive in schools that have 1700 pupils.

When asked why he does it and what is his inspiration for being at the helm of an inner-city alternative provision, headteacher Andy Percival admits, “it gets under your skin”.

It was set up ten years ago by Leeds City Council to get south Leeds to the point where it had zero exclusions from its secondary schools, but the Belle Isle base now takes students from all across the city and currently, 29 different schools.

Teacher Ben Powell, who retrained following a career in journalism with a view to a posting at Southway is pictured with students Corey Watson (left) and Lewis Harrison.

Southway has capacity for 120 students, with 79 on the registers at the moment, but referrals are increasing as the fallout from lockdown and its impact starts to surface.

Mr Percival took the post in October from Kelly Newby, now the Vulnerable Children Lead for Leeds City Council. It was the setting she had created that attracted him to the role and so he left his post as deputy head at The Rodillian Academy, an Oftsted good rated school, to work with young people that “deserve better”.

He said: “Rodillian will keep going and kids will always be a success. Without the right people in front of these kids and the opportunities, support and intervention - they won’t get it and they deserve better.

“We have students that have been involved in weapon and gang related incidents, some who struggle with mental health needs, special needs and some who are academically bright students but struggle with mainstream setting and some who have a difficult family life and their behaviour means they need a break from mainstream.”

Southway started out at provision for south Leeds but now accepts young people from schools across Leeds.

For students who have been moved from mainstream to Southway, which looks like any other school, it isn’t the end of the road.

The ultimate aim is reintegration to their own school, but Southway is still preparing them for maths, science and English GCSEs - and currently has a track record where in the last five years no students have left NEET(not in education, employment or training).

One of these is Maddie Canning-Sylvester. She was placed at Southway from Cockburn High School and staff say her progress is “beyond belief”.

She admits she was abusive to teachers, but really she says, she wanted and needed more support with reading and managing her emotions. Having had that she is now doing a couple of days a week at Cockburn and looking forward to going back full time.

Teacher Jo Freeman pictured with student Maddie Canning-Sylvester at Southway Hub in Leeds.

Year 8 student, Maddie said: “I do enjoy school but felt I wasn’t getting support and got angry if I could not get what I wanted. Here I can have a breather, now I like reading and I am looking forward to going back. I feel better able to cope and like food technology, art and history.”

The benefit of a provision like Southway is also felt back at the school a student has come from as it allows those children to carry on their studies without disruption.

However, it can take months to get a student back on track. Often there are two steps forward and one back. But, for staff, each day is a new day, despite it not being an easy ride.

PC Paul Coates is a schools safety officer and has been based at Southway for almost four years, it has taken three to break down barriers with students and start to have an impact.

He said: “Most of the kids have had bad or negative experiences of police and most here have had previous involvement, whether that is cautions, community resolutions, criminal convictions But, when you look beyond that they have got lots of qualities. It might not be academic but they are clued up, mature and self-aware.

“It would be fair to say that schools like this have had occasion to phone 999 because situations have gotten out of hand, but, if they speak to me it won’t escalate to that level because there is mutual respect there.”

In fact, while the YEP was visiting Southway last week there was an incident, quickly dealt with by PC Coates and staff, who are also trained to deal with behaviour which gets out of hand.

He added: “The benefit of having school officers is that WYP is not getting calls for service and, long term, we cut offences and re-offending. As a response officer you go to a job, deal with it and that is it. Here you have to build relationships and it has taken the best part of three years to get to this point.

“A lot of them, I have locked up their mums and dads, they get it, and when you see a kid that has been given up on making something of themselves it is really rewarding.”

However, having partnerships with agencies such as WYP do not come for free and like everything else are dependent upon funding, which is one of the biggest concerns Mr Percival would like to address taking Southway forward.

He said: “There needs to be greater security around funding, allowing me to look long term at wider opportunities. I hope we get more kids back into mainstream and I would like Southway to be viewed differently.

“I don’t want us to be seen as the naughty school. We are about putting something different in place, allowing people to succeed.”

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