PRUs rebrand designed to shake off 'sin bin' label

10th July 2009 at 01:00
Ministers jettison 'outdated and unhelpful' title in bid to remove stigma surrounding attendance

Pupil referral units are to be rebranded "short stay schools" as part of a government attempt to de-stigmatise and improve conditions for excluded pupils.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families admitted last year that the term PRU was an "outdated and unhelpful label".

There were "perceptions that the name was associated with poor quality", even though Ofsted, the schools watchdog, judged most units to be good or better, it said.

The department also acknowledged that the term "unit" can stigmatise the pupils who attend them.

Teachers welcomed the new title, saying it would allow pupils to say they go to school rather than having to explain what a PRU is.

But the move may fail to stop the media using the much more derogatory expression "sin bins".

The term "short stay school" reflects government ambitions for pupils to spend shorter periods of time in the units. One weakness of PRUs is that pupils can attend them for indefinite spells, it says.

An official consultation last year found that many respondents wanted the units to be described by the single word "school".

But the department rejected this because the units' particular purpose and distinct governance arrangements mean they need to be distinguished from mainstream and special schools.

The department originally favoured the term "prospect schools". Other suggestions that were rejected included "intensive support", "back on track", "prism" and "spectrum" schools.

The "short stay" moniker has already been used for several years in some areas of the country.

Lancashire County Council adopted the term in 2003 to emphasise its aim of reintegrating PRU pupils into mainstream schools as soon as possible.

Gillian Laycock, head of Hendon Brook Short Stay School, in Nelson, Lancashire, which caters for primary pupils, welcomed the decision to extend the use of the title across the country.

"The change in name does make a real difference," she said. "It means that when children are playing out and people say, 'Which school do you go to?' they can say 'Hendon Brook School', which has much better connotations than pupil referral unit, because the next question is always 'What's one of those?'"

Many other units have made a similar decision. According to Whitehall figures, of the 450 that were open last year, only 77 included the words "pupil referral unit" in their title.

The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill currently passing through Parliament will make "short stay school" the new legal title. But individual schools will continue to be free to use any name they wish.

The legislation will also give the Schools Secretary the power to veto local authority plans to close a short stay school. He or she will also be able to direct a council in its choice of provision to replace such a school. These powers cover the specific courses and subjects to be offered, the ages and number of pupils, and whether it should be provided through a replacement short stay school, a voluntary-sector partner or another institution such as an FE college.


When the fizz went flat

In 1985, Coca-Cola astonished the world when it reworked the recipe for its iconic soft drink. Despite a mammoth advertising campaign, New Coke customers stopped buying it in their droves and the old taste was soon brought back. This is widely considered one of the worst rebranding exercises of all time.

Scope for improvement

When the Spastics Society announced in 1994 that it was changing its name to Scope, it was widely praised by other charities. But within weeks the new name was adopted in playgrounds, pupils using the insult "scopey".

Crisp turnaround

Kellogg's announced in 2002 that its much-loved breakfast cereal Coco Pops was to be reborn as Choco Krispies. The outpouring of disapproval was immediate and overwhelming. When 92 per cent of respondents to a BBC poll called for the name to be reinstated, the company made a U-turn.

Consigned to history

In 2002, the Royal Mail took the unexpected and, frankly, bizarre decision to change its name to Consignia, a move derided by red tops and broadsheets alike. Just over a year later, to no one's surprise, it was ditched. One marketing observer described it as "like your worst date ever - short, unproductive, but very memorable".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today