A PARENT of a Forest High School pupil says he is “deeply troubled” by plans for dozens of students to be placed in a room and made to work in silence under threat of punishment as a way to combat staff shortages.

Local man David Patterson, whose child attends the Cinderford school on Causeway Road, has slammed plans to create a new multi-class ‘Supervision Room’, in which students are expected to work alone and in silence when staff are absent.

Newly-appointed Headteacher Alan Dane has introduced the concept as an alternative to hiring supply teachers, amid an “already shrinking” school budget being further squeezed by price hikes “of everything from paper to energy”.

A letter sent out to parents explains that each week, up to three full classes may be placed in the room and made to work in silence.

Students are set independent work that they complete on their own, supervised by Mr Dane or other senior leadership and supported by learning mentors and other staff “when needed”.

Mr Dane said that in order for the lessons to fully succeed, school leaders have decided to reinforce the room’s “simple rules very firmly at this stage”.

It means the room will become “the one ‘zero tolerance’ zone in the school”, with students given one warning if they do not sit as directed and work in silence.

Should they ignore the warning and not follow the rules for a second time, they will be given a half day suspension from school.

In his letter, Mr Dane says the zero tolerance zone will be enforced “until further notice, but hopefully not for long”.

David Paterson, himself a former teacher, described the model as “enforced isolation” after reading the letter last week.

Mr Paterson is concerned the students will be “forced” to work independently on a task “that presumably is so straight forward that questions and actual teaching will not be necessary”, and says the learning benefits of the policy “would seem to be zero”.

But he feels the behavioural concerns and ‘zero tolerance’ policy are “of greater concern”, with children who potentially make a noise twice during a lesson receiving a half day suspension.

He said: “So now not only will a child be limited in their learning as a result of the poor planning of the school, they could also be punished with a further lack of learning via suspension.”

David says his “disgust” at the plans would be true no matter his own circumstances, but extends further as his child is registered as SEN (Special Educational Needs) at the school, with a MyPlan in place to support him.

“He suffers from acute anxiety and up until this point, the school have been very supportive and helpful – the provision he has received has been exemplary”, David explained.

“Unfortunately, we have been given no indication as to how he would be supported through this change of policy, a change that will no doubt add to his anxiety levels and cause him to struggle in such a fiercely punitive environment.”

Mr Dane’s letter says the school has experienced “significant challenges” this year with higher levels of staff absences due to Covid and Long Covid, “but with fewer good quality supply teachers available.”

He says that in addition, the school’s shrinking budget means it is becoming “almost impossible to afford supply teachers at all”, and that, having introduced the model at a previous school, the room has its learning benefits, including “improved behaviour” than in standard cover lessons and “extended opportunities for students to develop deep independent learning skills.”

But Mr Paterson disagrees, saying the enforced silence and threat of punishment make for a potentially distressing learning environment for the students.

“While I am of course sympathetic to the budget concerns of such a small and vital secondary school for the community, I think it should go without saying that punishing the children in this manner is unacceptable”, he added.

“Pupils should be free to ask questions and should be entitled to a learning environment that supports and aids their development – not herded into a room three classes at a time to sit in enforced silence on work that will not challenge them in any way and then further distressed with the threat of suspension through absolutely no fault of their own.”