Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) are not meant to be long-term options. They were designed to be short-term measures, and the aim has always been to have a steady turnover in cohort, with staff supporting the pupil to either re-integrate back to mainstream or access further specialist support, usually through assisting with an EHCP application.
Too often, this does not happen. Young people can become ‘stuck’ in alternative provision and a big part of the problem is transition: both a failure to properly transition into a PRU and a lack of consideration of how we transition out of it.
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Transitions are recognised as a powerful influence on the success of pupil’s educational outcomes and wellbeing, especially between primary and secondary phases. The School Transition and Adjustment Research Study project, completed by researchers at University College London and Cardiff University, found that the two main components of a successful transition to secondary school were:
a) Being academically and behaviourally engaged with school
b) A sense of belonging with school
If we extrapolate these two factors over time and consider the type of pupils that are most likely to be referred to a PRU, we can begin to see a problem. They are likely to be those who have struggled academically, those who have consistently exhibited some form of unproductive behaviour and those who have probably felt aggrieved or shamed by their school experience.
With this in mind, it is clear that the staff working at PRUs have their work cut out to help settle pupils and engage them.
How quickly we can support pupils to re-enter mainstream or access specialist provision depends greatly on how well we can transition children into the alternative setting.
After much trial and error, we have used research to build a method that, we believe, fulfils our part of the arrangement.
Proven to work?
We utilise a number of evidence-informed approaches to help improve the efficacy of pupil transitions. These include:
Ensuring parents are involved in all stages of the transition process through half termly review meetings (see Flitcroft & Kelly, 2016).
Promoting the sense of ‘family’ and belonging that we promote using dining times and tutor work (see Jalali & Morgan, 2017).
Making sure communication within the local educational community is effective (see Lawrence, 2011).
Facilitating the development of positive relationships in the new provision through a bespoke approach dependant on individual needs (e.g. a phased introduction, incorporating lessons that the pupil will be successful in, boosting their confidence and building new relationships – see Thomas, 2015).
This has worked extremely well – children and young people settle quickly, and we can get them in a position where they are ready to access the next step in their education journey.
However, we find that we sometimes do not get the support from the schools these children are coming from to make these transitions even more effective. And transitions out of the PRU are sometimes not given the same consideration by the new setting as we give those coming in.
It is important to note that many of these approaches can be used irrespective of the type of provision, providing there exists the necessary desire to make the transition successful. The research is clear about what works and having applied it we know it can work in practice. We are now at a point where the pupils on our roll have been known to change by up to 60 per cent in the space of a term.
Schools must always consider the needs of the pupil before thinking of the ‘norm’ – if they do not, even when we have supported a child to be ready for a move, we can find they are stuck in what should have been a temporary intervention.
Leanne Forde-Nassey is headteacher and Ollie Ward is outreach lead at The Key Education Centre, Hampshire