The child arrived with no information. A call to the deputy head of their previous school did not bring much clarity: they couldn’t find the pupils’ file but she said she would be happy to verbally give me some information. It was basic, at best.
Fast forward five weeks and we discover that this pupil was actually subject to a child protection plan. We had missed seven weeks of opportunity to engage professionals in partnership, missed every bit of the backstory and, most importantly, put a vulnerable pupil at potential risk.
This is not uncommon for those of us who work in alternative provision: the majority of pupils who transition into our PRU come with information missing.
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And we have a very high turnover: our 464 places were occupied by 800 different pupils across the last 12 months. Transition for us is a daily challenge.
Sometimes it is basic information such as agency involvement that is missing; more common, however, is the lack of any academic information.
A recent and concerning example of this was a Year 11 pupil excluded in October. The only subject we could get him engaged with was art, as he was a talented artist. We asked his previous school for his GCSE art portfolio, but were told it had been disposed of. We were outraged, the pupil heartbroken.
We need to get better at this, as a profession. These children are often the most vulnerable in our schools and the information we have to support them is hard-won and essential for their future prospects. So how do we improve?
1. Make external agency involvement transparent
It is horrifying how many times we find out months later that pupils are subject to formal intervention from social care or have youth offending workers. Often, once we find out, the agencies have quietly disengaged. We know that agencies are incredibly pressured and that schools are often the glue that keeps the intervention together; we need to engage services from before the pupil starts and make sure the handover works.
2. Improve academic information
Over a number of years now PRUs and AP have moved towards a much more rigorous academic programme for pupils and we want learning to be seamless. This is made so much easier if we have accurate assessment information, any ongoing work and books. Ideally, we would have some diagnostic information, knowing where a pupil has learning gaps would be incredibly helpful in ensuring they make progress.
3. Focus on better behaviour information
Often a Year 11 excluded pupil will arrive with information on every single misdemeanour on record since day 1 in Year 7; this can often run to 50 or 60 sides of A4. Honestly, it’s not a shock to us that a pupil excluded has a long history of challenging behaviour, we don’t need every single incident of forgetting their pen in Year 7 to tell us that. What would be incredibly useful is an outline of strategies that have been tried and have or haven’t worked, some idea of triggers for behaviour and a brief outline of the last term of incidents.
4. Pinpoint talents and interests
Unsurprisingly perhaps, we rarely get any information on what pupils are good at and where their interests lie. This information would be so powerful as we try to build instant relationships and engage pupils in their learning from only a few days after they have been excluded.
5. Attend the meeting
This, I know from bitter experience, is controversial. Schools are busy places and the wrong member of staff attending the meeting can be a disaster. Having said that, being excluded from school is traumatic and can be damaging to pupils and families and the initial meeting is often one tinged with anger and a feeling that the school has simply ‘washed their hands’ of the pupil. Having the right member of staff from the school can help the pupil move on positively, be a bridge between the PRU and the pupil and provide an opportunity to provide the range of information I have outlined above.