PRUs need more support

14th September 2007 at 01:00
Watchdog finds good referral units suffer from cramped accommodation and a lack of information

PUPIL REFERRAL units (PRUs) are looking after some of England's most troubled children in inadequate accommodation and without the support they need from schools and education authorities, a report by Ofsted has found.

The watchdog, which looked only at good and outstanding units, said schools of failed to provide PRUs with crucial information about pupils. Local authorities, it said, breached government guidelines in dealing with special needs students.

Inspectors did not visit the one third of units ranked as satisfactory in Ofsted's last annual report, nor the one in eight which were described as inadequate.

More than half of the good or outstanding PRUs 16 out of 28 suffered from inadequate accommodation. Examples included no playground, no dining room and no specialist teaching rooms for subjects like science, ICT or art.

At one of them, Quayside Education Centre in Gosport, Hampshire, lack of teaching space meant that pupils were all part-time.

Inspectors were hardly more impressed by the information PRUs got from schools. They said that almost all the 28 units received too little information, particularly about academic ability, preventing them from knowing at what level to pitch their lessons.

Four local authorities were accused by Ofsted of ignoring Department for Children, Schools and Families guidelines by naming pupil referral units, instead of special schools, on statements of special educational need.

Councils were also blamed for failing to monitor pupils' progress and having inadequate procedures for reintegrating them into mainstream schools, leading to PRUs filling up too quickly and having to turn away excluded children.

Linda Alavi, head of Quayside, said her centre had been housed in mobile classrooms for more than five years. As a result, she said, it could provide a full-time education only by creating distance learning courses for key stage 3 children and organising work placements for key stage 4.

"The schools in this area do not exclude easily, and the children who come to us often have a high level of behaviourial problems," said Ms Alavi. "We are frustrated that we do not have the resources to do more for them."

She said that among her pupils were children with statements for emotional and behavioural difficulties who had been excluded from their special school.

Rena Harris-Cooksley, head of Dacorum Education Support Centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said that schools in her area kept her well informed about pupils' academic performance.

However, she said it was difficult for schools to brief units properly when the children involved hardly attended lessons, either because they were playing truant or because they were regularly excluded for short periods.

She admitted she was incensed by Conservative leader David Cameron's attack on the centres as ineffective.

"I don't think he understands what we're doing," she said. "My staff are all very skilled and work hard. PRUs in general use their limited resources extremely well."

She said she had invited Mr Cameron to the centre so he could see the reality for himself, but has yet to receive a reply.

The report found that the most effective centres offered a curriculum which varied to meet the needs of individual children. All the units had a good understanding of their pupils' social and emotional needs and regularly monitored their progress in these areas.

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector, said: "The best units have a strong focus on pupils' progress, both academic and personal development, set high expectations and respond positively to the unique challenges they face."

She said schools and local authorities should make sure they supported PRUs by providing them with all the information they needed and by working with them when the time came to reintegrate excluded children into mainstream education.

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