A recent Ofsted survey of 28 good or outstanding PRUs sought to identify what contributes to effective practice. It also reveals some of the barriers to it, including insufficient data from schools and LAs and inadequate decisions about long-term placement
A 2007 Ofsted report on successful pupil referral units (PRUs)* identified barriers faced by these units in providing children and young people with a good education.
The barriers may include inadequate accommodation, pupils of different ages with diverse needs arriving in an unplanned way, limited numbers of specialist staff to provide a broad curriculum and difficulties reintegrating pupils into mainstream schools. The success of PRUs depends on their responses to these challenges and the support they receive from their LA. The report also underlines the need for schools and LAs to provide adequate data and work with PRUs in reintegrating pupils into mainstream education.
According to the report LAs worked closely with successful PRUs. They helped them to develop links with partners, supported leaders and contributed to staff development. All the authorities visited could describe how the PRU contributed to a continuum of provision for pupils with social, emotional, behavioural and medical difficulties. However, some LAs had a gap between intention and practice, so children and young people often stayed in a PRU for an indefinite period. Not knowing the length of the placement made longer term planning difficult and opportunities to reintegrate pupils into mainstream schooling were limited. This was partly because subsequent provision was not identified before pupils were admitted to the PRU.
All the PRUs made sure personal and social development was emphasised: it was integrated into all lessons and activities, as well as being taught well at discrete times. The PRUs generally monitored personal development well but academic progress less so. Commonly, pupils with statements of special educational need had been admitted to PRUs without appropriate decisions being taken about long-term placement. In four PRUs some statements of educational special need named it as the school to provide the support; this does not fully comply with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) guidance that where a pupil’s special needs are long-term the pupil should be given a special school rather than a PRU placement. Most monitoring by LAs of the progress of these pupils was minimal and consisted only of the LA’s attendance at the annual review meeting if indeed one took place during the pupil’s time at the PRU.
For this survey, Ofsted inspected good and outstanding PRUs at Key Stages 3 and 4, as well as holding discussions with the LAs to identify factors which contributed to success. These PRUs had much in common. Key findings included:
- Successful PRUs visited had a clear sense of purpose. They focused strongly on pupils’ academic and personal development and on increasing their confidence to prepare them for mainstream school or for the next stage of their life. They provided an interesting, relevant and appropriately accredited curriculum (see box, right). Partnerships with a wide range of agencies supported pupils and enriched their experiences, particularly for the many PRUs which had limited specialist facilities of their own.
- Some PRUs had good systems for assessing and tracking pupils’ progress but almost all of them received too little information from pupils’ previous school and this hampered establishing pupils’ attainment levels on admission.
- Appropriate plans for the next steps for each pupil, clearly defined timescales and systems to put planning into action enabled timely and systematic reintegration of pupils into mainstream schooling.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the LA, the teacher in charge and the PRU’s management committee, as well as good quality support from the LA for the leaders of the PR.
The report recommends that LAs should:
- actively encourage mainstream schools to provide data about attainment, attendance and the behavioural, emotional and social needs of pupils being admitted to a PRU
- monitor and evaluate rigorously a PRU’s effectiveness
- follow DCSF guidance on placing and monitoring pupils with a statement of special educational need in a PRU
- ensure that PRU accommodation is suitable and that improvements are made urgently where necessary
- work with PRUs to develop clear and rigorous systems for tracking each pupil’s academic, social, emotional and behavioural progress
- ensure that all pupils receive the required amount of provision
- help management committees to provide PRUs with appropriate challenge and support.
Pupil referral units should:
- use information about pupils’ prior attainment effectively to ensure a smooth transition and to match work to pupils’ needs
- ensure that their expectations of the pupils are suitably high
- prioritise the improvement of literacy and numeracy skills where appropriate
- ensure that systems to track and evaluate pupils’ academic and social, emotional and behavioural progress are clear and rigorous
- use local facilities well to provide a good curriculum where on-site accommodation is limited.
*Pupil Referral Units: Establishing Successful Practice in Pupil Referral Units and Local Authorities