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Excluded pupils to get taste of work if PRU moves into office block

There will be at least two adults for every child in a new unit planned for Milton Keynes. The aim is that the corporate flair will rub off on pupils

Businesses have been asked to help educate children excluded from school as part of plans to set up a radical new pupil referral unit where there will be at least twice as many adults as pupils.

The hope is that bad behaviour can be eliminated by the "adult majority schooling" method, where teenagers study in a corporate environment, not a traditional classroom. Instead of covering the usual subjects, they will spend most of their time completing work experience with firms based in and around the school.

Managers of the proposed independent personalised education centre (or Ipec) in Milton Keynes, say the scheme will benefit both pupils - who will be inspired by working with real people - and the companies who are likely to get reduced rates for renting office space.

But PRU experts say they are concerned the children will not be able to work towards qualifications such as GCSEs.

If planning permission is granted the Ipec will be based in a large building in the city's business district big enough to house 70 pupils and at least 140 adults, made up of learning mentors and tutors as well as the staff working for the businesses that have chosen to locate there.

The Ipec, run by local not-for-profit education firm Countec, should be up and running by June and based in the new premises by September. The idea is loosely based on the company's work in its existing Citischool, its "school without walls" also in Milton Keynes, which caters for 15 to 16-year-olds who are excluded or at risk.

Countec already works with 1,000 employers and has arranged 3,000 work-experience placements. But general manager Tom Bulman admits plans for the Ipec are ambitious, especially as Milton Keynes Council has only awarded Pounds 615,000 as part of the contract to run the PRU and councillors might not give permission to use the building. He has also not yet signed up other firms to be part of the Ipec.

"When you try to be innovative like this you get things wrong, but if we have to change our plans we will just run the Ipec on a smaller scale and I am confident I can get businesses involved," he said. "Working with so many adults will help teenagers' rite of passage and give them a sense of value. We want to help challenging children experience success."

Key stage 3 pupils will do literacy and numeracy work as well as undertake role play and motivational activities.

PRUs don't have to follow the national curriculum, and there are differences in how they are run around the country. In North Lincolnshire, they have also tried the work-experience method.

Becky Durston, president of the National Association for Pupil Referral Units, said in her experience most children in units can get qualifications and this then helps their life chances. "There are lots of ways of engaging young people," she said. "I'm a big believer in accredited awards - I want to try to give young people something," she said.

"My concerns would be that KS3 children are too young to benefit from this kind of work experience and Ofsted might not be happy. They consider it good practice to offer awards."

Countec is recruiting staff for the Ipec. It was set up to replace an system where some Milton Keynes pupils were sent to independent schools when they were excluded.

City is the classroom

The idea of a "school without walls" started in New York. The theory is that members of the community pass on their experience to pupils.

Citischool started in Milton Keynes eight years ago. It has no headquarters - the city is the "classroom" - and children spend their time going to local firms for work experience.

It is run for 15 and 16-year-olds at risk of exclusion. They following a special programme: usually two days of work experience, one day of key skill training, another called knowledge and understanding and a half day of for work on an option.

At the end of the programme the teenagers graduate. The experience is designed to be fun, but tutors also have high expectations.

Countec says another advantage of Citischool is the relatively low costs: Pounds 3,000 per pupil compared with Pounds 4,500 for a pupil in a PRU.

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