Report slams The Elms secure unit classrooms

Classrooms at a children’s secure unit in Dundee are still “not fit for purpose” inspectors said today — despite improvements being ordered more than four years ago.

The Elms, in South Road, Lochee, looks after children from troubled backgrounds who are considered to be extremely vulnerable or have got into trouble with the law.

Its educational unit can take up to four pupils of secondary school age, but a joint team of school inspectors and Care Commission staff have criticised the cramped facilities.

Their report said, “Staff make the best use they can of the available accommodation, but the current environment impacts negatively on learners’ experiences due to a lack of appropriate space and rooms which are not fit for purpose.

“For example, teaching areas are very small and there is no suitable space for home economics, physical education or outdoor activities. Plans to improve the accommodation have been drawn up, but have not yet received confirmation of funding.”

The physical problems at the unit were apparent during a previous inspection published in late 2005, which found “major weaknesses”.

Shortly afterwards Dundee City Council social work committee heard the curriculum on offer was being limited by the restricted accommodation and discussions with the council’s property services manager were planned.

However, there had been no progress made when the inspectors made a follow-up visit in 2008 and their new inspection shows that the unit is still lacking proper facilities.

The inspectors have now urged the council to “improve accommodation to ensure it is fit for the purpose of educating and caring for young people in the 21st century.”

Councillor Laurie Bidwell, education spokesman for the opposition Labour group, said he looked forward to the report being presented to the council’s scrutiny committee, which is chaired by one of his Labour colleagues.

“There are a number of educational issues that I think will be looked at in a lot of detail when this is referred to the committee. I hope the head of the centre will be there, along with the education and social work directors.”

The city council was asked to comment on the report but had not responded at the time of going to press.

Despite the inspectors’ concerns, their report also praises the efforts of staff to do the best they can for the pupils.

Key strengths of the unit included the “caring and nurturing environment provided by staff, who are very responsive to individual needs” and the “motivating leadership” of the new principal teacher.

The young people were said to be “re-engaging with learning” and almost all have achieved some success during they stay at The Elms. A few managed to pass Access exams in maths.

The report added, “In the last six months all young people attended all education classes.

“Most young people who recently left the unit have progressed to other supported learning environments.

“Almost all young people show improved behaviour.”