What keeps me awake at night - Don't kill off PRUs, learn from us

Becky Durston

I have recently returned from a conference on pupil referral units (PRUs) organised by a group of energetic and hard-working volunteers, most of whom run their own schools as well. As always, the conference was excellent and gave us the valuable opportunity to share our problems and ideas with people who understand what it is like to teach in some of the most challenging schools in the country.

There is always some uncertainty about the future at these events, but it was exacerbated this year by the enormous changes occurring in our sector - funding issues, for example, and the introduction of PRU academies and alternative provision free schools.

But there is also the problem of government philosophy and misinformation. PRUs are not up to snuff, education secretary Michael Gove shrieked almost immediately after he took up his post, ignoring Ofsted figures that show there are more outstanding PRUs than mainstream schools. Many PRUs achieve well, despite an inspection regime designed for mainstream schools and the constant fight for survival.

Only 1 per cent of pupils in PRUs achieve five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths - we must do more for this educational underclass, says Mr Gove. I support the notion of giving pupils the same opportunities as their peers, but I don't understand why our education secretary is surprised at the relatively low results of PRU pupils. A large number of children in mainstream schools do not achieve the GCSE benchmark, so why expect pupils who have largely been excluded or who have other life-changing difficulties, such as mental or physical illness, to hit the target?

Mr Gove is making little or no attempt to take stock of what is already in place, what works and what doesn't with these vulnerable pupils, or to tap into the decades of experience in the PRU world. Instead, he ploughs on with his "ideas" like an express train that is in danger of destroying all in its path.

Alternative providers, largely private companies, are being encouraged to set up education for this group of pupils. They say they can achieve high quality for #163;8,000 per place. We know they can't, but many PRUs will be destroyed while they try and the most important element of what we do - consistency - will be lost. These pupils thrive under consistent care and structure and can only overcome their difficulties with the help of qualified staff in a fit-for-purpose environment with strong links to mainstream schools.

How about using some of the funding for reform to maintain and improve existing PRUs? We have a lot to offer, but rather than listening, the government wants to sweep us away.

Becky Durston is a retired PRU headteacher from Essex. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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Becky Durston

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