Despite being a teacher of children with special educational needs for 14 years I have never visited a PRU. I’ve long been interested in PRUs and how they work because I have a penchant for children with challenging behaviours. We have a few children in my school who display interesting behaviours but most are very poorly children. I wanted to visit a PRU but there are none nearby. Enter @jordyjax a Deputy Head teacher, and a lovely invitation to see her PRU in action.
‘Children and young people educated in alternative provision (AP) are among the most vulnerable.
Prus are one type of AP. They are Local Authority establishments which provide education for children unable to attend mainstream schools. There were 393 PRUs in operation in February 2013.’ (DfE April 2013).
As we all know every child is entitled to an education, whoever they are. That said there are some children who struggle in mainstream schools for various reasons. PRUs exist to allow those children to gain an education comparable to their mainstream peers. Not all children who attend a PRU are there due to challenging behaviours, some are suffering from poor health, some may be teenage Mums, some may be on the spectrum and others may be teenage expectant Mums. In my naivety I assumed that PRUs were just for children with challenging behaviours. Mistake number one! All children in PRUs are not behaviourally challenged. Armed with all this information I was looking forward to my visit.
This PRU caters for Primary aged children. There are 25 of them in total. Most of these are there due to their behaviour as it happens but there is an expectation that some, not all, will have ’time out’ of mainstream, learn some new behaviours, possibly learn to mix better with their peers and return to mainstream. So what does the PRU actually do?
Mistake number 2 from me! I expected there to be a very strict regime in full swing. I thought there would be sanctions for this and sanctions for that. I expected to see children sitting out of lessons or being hauled to see the Head teacher for various misdemeanours. I thought there would be a queue of children outside @jordyjax’s office waiting to hear their fate for misbehaving. What I saw was something very different. There was an air of calm and control about the place. You could tell that there was a regime in place but it wasn’t the first thing that hit you as you walked through the door. The point I’m making here is that the children possibly do not realise they are any different from any others. Their school runs just like their old one but with fewer children. That can only be a good thing as we aren’t in the business of labelling children so early on in their lives.
As the school day started, in line with many other schools all children were fed their breakfast. This was used as a teaching session as they made it themselves if possible, counted slices of bread and used general maths skills. Children don’t learn when they’re hungry. They also don’t behave when they’re hungry, but time is too precious to waste so a lesson was in full swing.
At playtime the classes all had a separate break. I liked this idea as it gives the older, more boisterous ones chance to let off some steam running around. Younger ones could do the same with their peers but weren’t learning any poor behaviour from other children. There is the added advantage that if something does go wrong at playtime it is easier to contain a smaller number of children. This is very necessary for the staff.
Wondering around the school I noticed several reward systems. I know all schools have these but not to this extent. They were everywhere. The children had chance to excel at anything they were good at. I was told by @jordyjax that one boy used to destroy all displays in the corridors. With the help of his target and a reward system this is now down to him only destroying his own picture on the display. Good work I think. Interestingly for me, they also withdraw the rewards if necessary. I was quite shocked when I heard this as in my mind once a child has earned a reward they have earned it for good behaviour at that time. I would never remove a reward once given. However, these are very different children from my poorly poppets and are cognitively able to understand this. Also this system clearly works.
As we went further around the school Jackie showed me the ‘peace room’. I was very impressed with the peace room. There is nothing in it that can be destroyed. There are paintings on the wall which can’t be spoilt and a built in bench which can’t be wrecked. So, if a child can’t cope in a lesson he or she can have time out in the peace room and cannot get in to further trouble by going on a wrecking spree. It is all designed to help the child to improve their behaviour. Just to be sure I’m not painting too rosy a picture of the PRU one young lad did try and shut Jackie and I in there while I was admiring it. He is there for a reason though and we came to no harm at all.
Moving on to the staff I was introduced to Nichola the Head teacher. This girl has years of experience in EBD schools and therefore knows all about these children. She certainly has the measure of them. She is very caring towards those children and I saw her in her office just once during my whole visit. The staff themselves are incredibly supportive of each other. This was heart warming to see. One member of staff had experienced a bad morning and a broken car. Another staff member made her a brew and supplied chocolate biscuits. Speaking of chocolate, it was everywhere! There was a general feeling of looking after each other which was lovely to see.
I saw some fabulous lessons while I was there. Two Police Officers had come in to do inclusive sports with the children. This was very interesting as the police were building bridges with these children and showing the lighter side of their role at the same time. I saw lessons centred around the theme of the World Cup and I chatted with the boys about the games we had seen. They were all disgusted with the behaviour of Suarez and the biting incident I was relieved to hear. Most of the children were proud of their work and wanted to show me what they were learning. Just like most children I think.
My visit also taught me how hard the staff work. They go out in to the mainstream schools and share their expertise with the teachers there. However, Jackie tells me that when they visit to see if their interventions have been put in place many have not. Mistake number 3 for me. I would have thought that a mainstream teacher who was expecting a child to return from a PRU would have all the interventions in place in readiness for them. They wouldn’t want a repeat of the poor behaviour. It seems that very little advice given actually makes it through to the classroom. I have discussed this with my mainstream colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that mainstream teachers are simply far too busy. They have the best will in the world but do not have the staff/child ratio that the PRU does and therefore can’t manage it. I think this is a sad state of affairs. If the expectation is for the child to return to their own school there must be some support in place for the child and the teacher.
Another thing I have discovered is that quite often the mainstream schools don’t want the children back. It seems to be the case that once the children are gone the heart does not grow fonder and the children are not welcomed back with open arms. It may be a case of once bitten twice shy as the saying goes. I can understand this one. Again, mainstream teachers with their 2 adults to 30 children simply don’t have the time to spare to nurture the child and ensure a smooth and happy transition back to the classroom. Understandable I know but not good if you are the teacher in the PRU who has invested time and energy in to equipping the child with coping strategies.
Just to conclude, at the PRU there is a general ethos of high expectations for work and behaviour. There is zero tolerance on behaviour. Work hard, behave well and you will be rewarded. Is this not exactly the same as in mainstream schools? They also have high expectations and expect good behaviour. Am I being naive again in hoping that mainstreams and PRUs can find a common ground to work together for the good of the children. Having visited the PRU I can see how hard the staff work at turning the children around, teaching them coping strategies, sharing skills with mainstream teachers and hoping to return them to their rightful place. I can see why Jackie becomes upset when the children are rejected due to the time constraints placed on mainstream teachers. As professionals we should find a way through this problem and remember that these children are our future, they need our help.