What the Media Says
In the most recent months there have been several news articles shining a light on the PRU/AP world. With titles such as “School exclusions ‘driving gang violence as groups target vulnerable pupils” and “County-lines’ drug gangs recruit excluded children” you’d be forgiven to think that Pupil Referral Units are breeding grounds for the drug use, criminal activity and child sexual exploitation. A reiteration to these newspapers: gang membership for children is not a job option where children are recruited into. These are children being exploited. They are being exploited by others with more power, more money, and probably a few more years and a few more miles between the face-to-face drug dealing.
These concerns that PRUS are destroying the next generation were echoed when I recently attended a conference in London where a gentleman was citing that PRUs should be abolished as they are killing our children. His words echoed around the posh hall in Westminster. Killing our children.
A week later I read through the serious incident review about a young boy called Chris Corey from Newham. His family begged for help, his family begged for him to be moved, instead his family mourned over the death of their little boy; 14 years old. Shot when he relocated back to Newham. Shot when he should have been choosing which options he might take at GCSEs.
So, are PRUs killing our children?
My answer, in short, is no. PRUs can be the saviour for children with little or no hope for an education future. Alternative Provision has the power to support children to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of worth, a sense of becoming more than just a ‘naughty kid’. In the last fifteen years of working in PRUs I have been touched by the innovation from teachers, senior leaders, teaching assistants and even the administrators that let the students in to those dilapidated buildings.
The problem here wasn’t the PRU, it was the lack of organisational support for a vulnerable child in the community.
The serious incident review cited Tunmarsh PRU (I worked there many moons ago) as bending over backwards to support Chris and his family. Sending teachers across the Local Authority, supporting online learning packages when he lived with his grandfather to support continuity of education, and following up social services and other organisations. The problem here wasn’t the PRU, it was the lack of organisational support for a vulnerable child in the community. A child being exploited, a child who probably only wanted to feel like he belonged but instead got caught up in a dark world where he and his family paid the ultimate price. A child that was so scared that at fourteen years old that he bought a bullet proof vest.
PRUs aren’t killing our children, austerity and the effect it has on the real lives of the children we work with, is.
What do we need for Schools and PRUs
In the most recent budget report schools have been given money for the ‘little extras’.
Schools don’t need little extras, we need appropriate and responsive income to support the rising needs of the children we work with.
This starts at the beginning. It starts when a parent worries that their child isn’t making the progress they expect or seems different to their peers. It starts before a child even comes to school.
We need to return to the philosophy of early intervention and support, at the beginning, where it teaches parents how to play and nurture their child. If parents feel like they belong, their children will be able to feel like they belong to. It will save those children who may have otherwise never belonged until they can buy their belonging by criminal activities into gang life.
Schools DON’T need little extras.
The children that I have worked with need effective systems and support that means that we have exciting and engaging curriculum taught by experienced teachers who want to stay. We need schools and Local Authority support that can recruit if teachers decide to leave, to widen the curriculum to include a range of subjects where all children feel like they are able to engage.