How many secondary headteachers look at their Year 7 admissions list at the beginning of March and scan the list of schools for any local Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) children? And how many look for the surnames of any challenging families to see if there is another one of their offspring moving up?
Sadly, as a mainstream secondary headteacher, I was guilty of both, even though it went against all of my principles of education and inclusion. It was not that I didn’t want these young people to join my school. Rather, I was acutely aware of the significant impact they were likely to have on the learning of other young people when they arrived.
Looking back – with the perspective of now heading up the primary and secondary PRUs and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) for the Bromley Educational Trust – I see how wrong that approach was and how those problems were not with the children but with us. I now ask myself what we did to support these children during what is a challenging time for any 11-year-old child, let alone for a child who is likely to have already suffered significant failure and rejection.
I see now we did not do enough. Despite the challenges these children faced, we expected them to slot in like every other student.
A new approach
This still happens. As with all new students, schools meet PRU pupils as part of the Year 6-7 interview process and they attend the Year 6-7 transition day. But that is it and, in many schools, these particular pupils are already wobbling by October half-term and their teachers are bombarding the leadership team with concerns about attitude to learning and, ultimately, how this is impacting on the progress measures for their class.
Having moved to the other side of the transition process, it is clear that the vulnerability of these young people is even greater than I’d realised. Although many young people are doing very well in the smaller, more nurturing environment that the PRU offers, they want to go back to mainstream and be given a second chance. And so they should be. However, these pupils are often apprehensive and realise that other schools, other staff and other children may treat them differently.
Our aim is to get every child in a PRU primary back into mainstream education. This year, eight students out of 13 in our unit have been given that second chance, and some of them are already experiencing anxiety. But, if the following measures are put in place, it will greatly improve the chances of success for a young person transferring from a PRU.
1. Open communications
As soon as the new Year 7 list is released, ensure close communication between the PRU and mainstream secondary schools.
2. First contact
Mainstream secondary schools should carry out an initial meeting at the PRU to connect with the child and to gain a thorough insight into their situation, relating to their strengths and key triggers.
3. Explore the environment
The child should visit the secondary with a parent and member of staff from the PRU.
4. Focus sessions
A personalised programme of transfer needs to be created, where the child and member of staff from the PRU attends the mainstream school for “focus afternoons”. The child should eventually attend these sessions on their own.
5. Mentorship schemes
An older student mentor from the mainstream school should be allocated to the young pupil and should meet with the child on every visit.
6. Build relationships
A particular member of staff from the Year 7 team should become familiar with the child to ensure they have a point of contact and an attachment from day one.
7. Stay in touch
The mainstream school should remain in contact with the PRU for the first half-term of the child’s secondary experience and the PRU should be on call if a crisis moment occurs.
Neil Miller is executive headteacher at Bromley Beacon Academy and Bromley Trust Academy
This article is from the 1 July issue of TES, which is a transition special issue. There are 18 pages of analysis, discussion and tips around the issue of transition from primary to secondary education.