Another grand idea

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
What's a few thousand pounds between friends? A PRU manager sings the budget blues

I went on a course recently, managing to absent myself from the hurly-burly of life at my pupil referral unit. It was nearly a good course. There were odd moments of inspiration among the comments that reinforced my belief that support work for excluded kids has taken the title of Cinderella away from the youth service; that schools have no concept of what we try to do, and under what circumstances, to support the kids they've rejected.

Our tutor spoke about teaching styles and the usefulness and versatility of interactive whiteboards. He spoke about visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning, extolling the virtues of some software that helps test kids for their learning styles. "And don't forget the teachers," he added. The software had a modest site licence fee. Somewhere around pound;5,000, I seem to remember.

He spoke about the need for the right accommodation to help these "problem" kids learn well; about training for staff; about computers being so important when kids don't like writing. It was somewhere about this point that I glazed over and began to work out how many seconds it was until the next coffee break and how much the Beckhams would have earned in that time.

I'm sure interactive whiteboards are wonderful. But our budget won't cover one - let alone the half-dozen our tutor's school apparently has. I bet it has an ICT manager and technician, too. Our staff lacks an ICT teacher and couldn't justify employing someone simply to look after our few ancient computers.

We acknowledge that kids have a variety of learning styles - and try to encompass as many tactics as possible to offer compromise.

Online testing: that sounds good. I can see the kids queuing for their turn on the computer we've loaded the software on to. We have no network. We have no server. We don't have the budget for a pound;5,000 site licence.

If we did, we'd be upgrading tomorrow. Then we could ensure that all those who don't like writing (and those who have genuine difficulty with writing) could have access to computers. What's more, we'd test our staff for their learning styles - if they stayed long enough to find out the results. In our present team, half have been seconded by the authority to fill gaps, or are from an agency.

The kids we work with have been rejected by, or can't cope with, mainstream schools. They are troubled and troublesome. They have learning and skill voids.

We are housed in substandard accommodation. I have been through two Ofsteds and, in both cases, one of the main reasons for being placed in special measures was accommodation. We have substandard resources. The array of computers I have inherited includes some working on Windows 95. The desks must have come from a second-hand store or building clearance. I even came across a maths book that spoke about "when the Channel Tunnel opens".

Staffing is always a problem. Who wants to move into an area of education where being sworn at is a daily occurrence? Where the buildings you work in are of this standard? Where equipment is scant and poor?

And don't forget that we're expected to get kids through GCSEs. Ofsted wants to see value added. The authority wants to see value added. That's value added to the education levels of our kids, not value added to our budget to make sure we do the job they want us to do.

I read recently that the winner of the TES's new columnist competition is one of us. She works in a behaviour management team. Her story could have been culled from my day, or the day of many people operating with excluded kids. Jealous of her? You bet I am. But I'm proud of her too, and delighted that people outside pupil referral units and behaviour teams will get an insight into our world. Then, perhaps, training and resources might be more in tune with our needs.

Now, can anyone lend me pound;5,000?

The author, who manages a pupil referral unit in south-east England, wants to remain anonymous

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