Staff call for 'sin-bin' makeover

6th February 2009 at 00:00
Pupil referral unit teachers campaign for name change, but officials are reluctant to rebrand them as schools

Teachers are lobbying the Government to rebrand England's pupil referral units as "prospect schools", "integration schools", "prism schools" or "spectrum schools" to boost the reputation of the so-called sin-bins.

Staff at the units are still waiting to hear if any of the proposals have been welcomed by ministers, who want to replace them with a range of alternative provision from charities and businesses.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, has said the term is "outdated and unhelpful". But government officials have made it clear to the National Organisation for Pupil Referral Units, lobbying for the change of name, that the units will be barred from using the word "school" unless it is paired with another word, such as "integration".

Mr Balls' white paper, due to come before Parliament this year, seeks to overhaul education for disengaged young people, with a key policy of trialing smaller, studio schools accommodating up to 300 young people.

He has also promised to collect and publish annually data on attendance at PRUs, a pledge that has worried members of the national organisation. Members have had meetings with Mr Balls and civil servants to discuss their concerns and are awaiting further guidance.

Jacky Mackenzie, secretary of the national organisation - also known as prus.org.uk - said many members wanted PRUs to be known as "schools".

"For legal reasons this cannot be, but the Department for Children, Schools and Families has listened and agreed to PRUs being known as schools as long as it is paired with another name," she said.

The proposals in the white paper are designed to make sure pupils in PRUs get a good start in life. The curriculum will focus on the core subjects of English, maths and ICT to make sure children leave with basic skills.

Mr Balls wants some PRUs to be run as groups of businesses in which young people would be "workers as much as students".

Some 70,000 pupils are now taught in PRUs after being excluded from mainstream schools. Most are boys aged 11 to 15, and just 1 per cent of all pupils get at least five C grades at GCSE.

Ofsted said last year that the proportion of inadequate PRUs - 14 per cent, catering for about 700 pupils - was too high.

But teaching unions have criticised the move. At the national organisation's meeting with Mr Balls, Ms Mackenzie, along with Becky Durston, its president, and executive member Gill Williams, told the Schools Secretary that there were problems in using data to assess PRUs.

Some units have very small numbers of pupils, and because of their personal or medical problems, teachers believe attendance should not be compared with traditional schools. And the exam results of many children in PRUs are "captured" by the school they are also registered with.

Ms Mackenzie said: "Aggregated data by local authority would therefore not always be a true indicator of the success of PRUs in an area."

Mr Balls told the organisation, which "broadly supports" the white paper, that he had not meant to misrepresent the achievements of PRUs by asking for the data.

A DCSF spokesman said it could not comment on a private meeting, but confirmed that talks were continuing.

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