"Make it more vocational," they said. "Make it more relevant." So we scratched our heads and came up with a long list of skills and knowledge that we thought should be in our curriculum. The difficult bit is matching the influences and needs.
I work in a key stage 4 pupil referral unit. Some of our kids could achieve a GCSE or two. Others struggle to write their name. As ever in a PRU, they are all disenchanted with learning and with the type of schooling they've left behind.
We recently decided we needed to focus on skills that will help them when they leave school. We started to talk about the "look after yourself" faculty and the "skills for working life" faculty. We began to think about what might be described as a primary school approach - working through cross-curricular topics. In the "look after yourself" faculty there could be a "feed me" department. And there would be topics about diet: cooking, nutrition, budgets, hygiene, volumes and weights.
We've started to think about how topics could be bound together, and have been able to put skills and topics into a context. However, there is concern about how Ofsted would view such an approach. We're looking at each item on the list and finding how it maps to national curriculum targets, a slow but necessary process. Eventually we will be able to identify gaps in the target list and justify the omissions.
We've also started to look at accreditation. Not only to think about traditional routes to certificates but some of the more unorthodox ones.
We're looking at the Asdan award scheme for life skills, entry level, unit awards and lower level certification offered by the boards - another slow process of matching desired skills with specifications and the abilities of the kids on our roll.
As a theoretical exercise it's almost fun. Then you start to think about the realities that inhibit the flight of fancy. Being a PRU, we've a small staff with few specialist resources. We are considering taking on part-timers to offer us specific skills we think we'll need. This, in turn, will skew the timetable. If you have, say, a cookery person available only on a Wednesday, how do you offer this skill to those at work experience on Wednesdays? We believe in encouraging research skills. Now we need to find relevant reference books and CDs to help. But resources must suit high-fliers as well as those at the opposite end of the scale.
While not defeated, the team is frustrated. Looking around for help is difficult. Local authority advisers and consultants have often missed out on learning about PRUs. Our budget and needs say that we're looking at sets of half a dozen or 10 texts, so we need two of this, one of that and a maximum of three of the third option (if there is one).
We enquire. I use the internet. I talk to ex-colleagues. All the time, the authority is pressing us to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
There is no way we could suggest to our kids and their families that we close for a day or two and get things sorted. We don't have a large enough team to release people to do the research. We must flounder on in hope.
As the network of people I talk to widens, so my hope of talking to someone who has tried this approach increases. It's not new and it's not rocket science, but we believe it is a way forward that will benefit us and our kids. And we know that one day we will have cracked it.
Meanwhile, Carl has broken another mouse, Dan and Liam have squared up to each other again, and the supply teacher has gone off sick.
David Watson co-manages a pupil referral unit in south east England. Anyone able to offer information or advice can contact him at email@example.com