Excluded children project wants cash guarantee
Organisers of a project to improve the quality of education for excluded children in London are pushing for a minimum funding guarantee.
This would ensure the capital's pupil referral units (PRUs) are properly staffed and resourced.
The project also aims to develop a common curriculum and monitoring system so every unit gets an Ofsted rating of at least satisfactory.
The Pounds 525,000 scheme, funded by the Government as part of its Back on Track agenda, will run for two years. ICT systems will be set up to help PRU teachers communicate more easily, and research has been commissioned into why certain types of pupils are over-represented in the units.
There are around 3,370 children in London's PRUs, a small number of which are outstanding, while many have only just come out of special measures.
London councils and the local Youth Crime Prevention Board, which are administrating the project, said although they wanted to introduce common elements to all units, they recognised that a one-size-fits-all approach would not be appropriate. Units in the capital specialise in helping particular groups: for example, children who are hospitalised or those whose first language is not English.
Those at the launch of the project this week were asked to make a wish list of what would make a difference in their local area. The organisers intend to commission a design of the ideal unit.
There were group discussions about what could be done to improve alternative education provision in London. Speakers included behaviour guru Sir Alan Steer.
The project is being chaired by John d'Abbro, head of the New Rush Hall Group, a federation that works with children experiencing behavioural, emotional or social difficulties, and Graham Robb of the Youth Justice Board.
Mr d'Abbro said: "I think this will be a really interesting process. We've found all London PRUs are completely different, and because of this, and the lack of communication, running them can be a really isolating experience.
"There is a large variation in funding and large variations between different London PRUs, and it is important councils make it clear they encourage alternative provision and know it's not the end of the line. This is clear in some areas with rebuilt facilities.
"It is important pupils feel they are going to a positive place. What I believe passionately is that every PRU, like every school, must give children hope. Our aim is for every unit to be at least satisfactory. We want to raise the bar."
Shireen Ritchie, deputy chair of the London Councils' children and young people forum, was in a team that has already visited local units as part of the improvement project.
Councillor Ritchie, who serves on the management board of her local PRU, said she did not want the facilities seen as "troublesome backwaters" for vulnerable children.
"We recognise there is some very good work. The problem is they (units) all have very different ways of working with very different students, and we want to see them all have a sort of core curriculum and be safer places," she said.
Only 1 per cent of children in London units get five top GCSEs, but some units achieve much better results than others. The heads of these units will be asked to share their ideas as part of the project.
Lord Adebowale, chair of the London Youth Crime Prevention Board, said he had heard "countless examples" of poor sharing of information about pupils. He is asking agencies to sign up to the PRU "good practice guide".
The board's safety and cohesion programme will be run in 40 of London's highest-risk units and police numbers will increase as part of the Safer Schools Partnership.
SHIP BACK ON COURSE
The revival of Project 16, an Islington pupil referral unit, has been rapid. In January 2006 it was put in special measures, but thanks largely to staff changes, it received a satisfactory rating the following year.
Headteacher Patrick Eames, who was brought in to turn the school around, told Ofsted: "We've had to stabilise a sinking ship. Now we're stable and sailing in the right direction."
His leadership has led to improved morale, better lessons and good community links.
The unit provides education for key stage 4 pupils who have found it difficult to attend, or who have been permanently excluded from, mainstream schools.
Pupils are now encouraged to get involved in the running of the unit. The curriculum has been made more stimulating, which is improving behaviour, and 10 GCSE options are available.