This research project has involved a case study within a successful Pupil Referral Unit located in the north west of England. The research has taken a socio constructionist approach, which has focused on the experiences and stories of both staff and pupils using interviews and personal insights to provide data specific to the setting and to provide a perspective from within.
Relationships with Staff
I managed to carry out six interviews with pupils aged between 13 and 16. The first key theme I identified when analysing the young people's answers, was the majority of the young people stated that they liked school and only a small number declared that they did not. This led to the next question which was why they enjoyed it. Again, the majority of the pupils showed the same particular interests which contributed to their positive attitudes towards the school. This repetitive interest amongst the young people, was, the staff. One pupil made the comment:
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"â€¦I like them because they keep me in schoolâ€¦. The teachers at my other school weren't botheredâ€¦"
This was of great interest to me as it suggests straight away that the Pupil Referral Unit I have used within my research project is indeed beneficial according to the perspectives from the young people. This is a positive beginning to my research findings.
According to Best (1995):
"Staff who are approachable in situations, however trivial, will be more likely to be trusted about more sensitive issues."
Best also states that staff in schools may have a significant role in minimising the effects of young people's negative experiences, due to their availability and frequently, the closeness of their relationships with children.
When the participants were asked if there were any individual members of staff in the setting, that they could talk to when needed, all of the participants agreed that they had someone in mind. They went on to say that they were given support by this particular member of staff through conversations and being listened to. One participant commented by saying:
"â€¦she calms me down when I'm stressing and does things for me. It's like having a mum in schoolâ€¦."
However this comment raised an intriguing question which is whether the high level of support that this pupil finds beneficial, is actually not beneficial at all for this pupil in the long term.
Mandelstam (2009) explains that
"...the fact is that all life involves risk and the young and the vulnerable are exposed to additional risks they are less equipped to cope with..."
However, Mandelstam (2009) further suggests that although young people may be exposed to risks they are less equipped to cope with, he does not condone practitioners, metaphorically speaking, wrapping them up in cotton wool. He states that young people need to learn to independently participate in everyday life without over reliance on an adult beside them. This is particularly significant once they come to the end of their stay in the setting and a new transitional process begins, because they may not have the same kind of support, which will result in the young people feeling lost.
On the whole when revising the transcribed interviews with the young people I have recognised that it was a common theme that all the pupils had positive attitudes towards the staff and felt they gained the support they needed which led to a positive atmosphere within the PRU.
Although Mandelstam voices his concerns that young people may have too much support, I believe that this support is extremely beneficial to the young people as it is what they need to help them grow emotionally. In my opinion a lot of these young people do not receive the emotional support they need and deserve in order to develop and thrive. The support they receive in settings like the PRU are essential to them achieving their full potential and gaining greater opportunities and prospects for a more positive and hopeful future.
Clark and Griffiths, (2008), suggests that
"what makes challenging behaviour 'challenging' is not just the behaviour, but the ability of a service to respond and cope".
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Therefore, if the staff have the capabilities of dealing with such behaviour this will determine the severity of the behaviour and enable a far more measured response to the problem and therefore a positive experience for the both the staff and the young person.
There is evidence to show that in this particular Pupil Referral Unit the young people have significant positive relationships with particular members of staff, which is helping them to engage in a more open and comfortable education.
One participant who stated he did not like the school explained the reason for this being the fact he:
"â€¦shouldn't even be here. I wasn't even naughty at my other school and all my friends are there. It's a joke."
This is particularly important issue because according to Gray, (2002), a number of PRU staff would argue that many young people are wrongly placed within PRUs and in actual fact should be placed in more suitable settings for their particular needs. Therefore in this particular instance it may well be possible that this particular participant had been wrongly placed.
Peer Relationships and Friendships
Four out of the six participants state that they have made good friendships within the setting. Harries, (2006), makes the comment that in the young people's desire to be accepted and part of an 'in' group they can become vulnerable to peer pressure and manipulation.
Harries also explains that at this particular time of the young people's development they need the skills to distinguish between positive and manipulative relationships in order to make and maintain positive friendships and enable them to cope with conflict and strong emotions. Therefore it is reassuring to hear that the young people participating in my research are comfortable and positive towards their friendship groups and that the Pupil Referral Unit has enabled the young people the support and encouragement to form friendships throughout their time in the setting.
However, one of the participants states that he has not made any friends in particular. This participant made the comment:
"â€¦all my mates are at the school I got kicked out of, I'm not bothered about making friends hereâ€¦"
I find this to be a key theme as I feel from the literature I have discussed that teachers within the PRU should ensure this pupil is supported with both his emotional and social development. Blake, (2007), states how children who have been through a transition which has not been forseen such as being permanently excluded and referred to a Pupil Referral Unit will not have expected this transition and therefore been unable to prepare for it. Therefore Blake makes the point that these issues must be managed as they occur by the staff within the setting whilst the practitioners understanding of the young person's social and emotional needs are assessed and understood.
One of the most significant themes that became apparent via the transcribed interviews with the young people, was that each young person recognised and appreciated the one-to-one support offered to them at the unit.
Hart, (1999), states that:
"almost all children who have behavioural problems associated with a specific learning disorder will need some adjustments in the school setting."
Therefore, as the young people in this setting have been permanently excluded from their previous school, the PRU should recognise what adjustments are needed for each child to learn to their full potential and put these adjustments into practice.
One participant stressed in the interview how:
"â€¦It's more one-to-one here so I can understand better. At my other school there were too many people and I couldn't concentrate so I just used to mess about. Its better when the teacher talks to me on my own. It makes me understand everything more easily."
This is a positive sign that the Pupil Referral Unit works closely with the students who need closer support in their education and their one-to-one- support approach seems to have a positive impact on the education of the young people attending this setting.
Hart, (1999) makes the point that most children with specific learning disorders need a lot of extra and individual support such as one-to-one training. She states that this kind of support will help the young person to overcome at least some aspects of academic failure which otherwise would not be improved.
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Benefits of Provision
Another interesting finding that arose from the interviews with the young people was that the majority of them agreed that they thought the subjects they were studying were going to be beneficial to their future. One participant made the comment:
"...I don't like doing maths but I know if I do it will help me get a job when I'm finished here..."
This highlights that the participant did not necessarily enjoy all of the subjects but she has recognised that it will be beneficial to her future. Therefore she continues to engage in this subject with the knowledge she may go on to better herself once she leaves the PRU.
Cotton, (2001) cited in Haggarty, (2002) makes the comment that:
"...a qualification in mathematics results in higher salaries in later life so what we do in schools actually does affect not only the here-and-now existence of our pupils, but also their future prospects too..."
This is a particularly positive finding, because it identifies that the young people do understand what is important for their future and not just the present time. I feel this is indicative of good practice within the PRU, as they are making their young people able to see beyond the present.
Two out of the six pupils I interviewed said they were happy as the PRU has given them the opportunity to go on work placements one day a week. They explain it is beneficial to them as they receive a qualification through a subject which is more hands on rather than academically intense written work.
"â€¦Its mint because I can learn about being a mechanic by going out and the seeing the real stuff not just reading a book like you have to for all those other subjects. If I do well then I want to get a job straight after and get paid. Sack going college or anything like that..."
This particular pupil makes the point that he is happy that he is successfully carrying out a course provided for him which suits his learning needs by being more hands on and shows enthusiasm to continue in this area of work after leaving school.
Disadvantages of Provision
However, the young people who have specific job placements they wish to follow but find this provision is not available to them, are less positive about the curriculum they follow in the school and claim they would benefit more through a more practical course. It would appear that this is a problem that is due to a lack of financial support. One practitioner commented:
"...There is a massive amount of money pumped into the PRU and it's frustrating sometimes when the young people don't take the support given to them. We are constantly thinking of new strategies to support them and help them through their education but unfortunately the money can't be spread as widely as we would ideally like. Very often it is the placements that become limitedâ€¦"
Longman and Agar, (1999), also make reference to such barriers of learning within PRU's, and suggest that many PRU's are physically very small ,with limited staff and facilities. This they suggest makes the provision of expertise and the wide range of practical apparatus that was essential for the success of the PRU, very problematical. Throughout the interviews with both staff and young people at this setting, this became a recurring issue. It became clear that although there is a considerable amount of money provided for the PRU to give the young people a supportive and nurturing environment to be educated in, this may however still not be enough to ensure the young people are gaining the resources and education which is best suited and more beneficial to their particular learning needs. One practitioner made the comment:
"â€¦We would love to be able to offer more hand's on subjects within the building. However, the expense of it is just too much considering the financial circumstances we are all facing at the minute. I do feel we offer a great selection of facilities such as computers and a sports hall. Although these are becoming more dated and the young people are showing more interest into other vocational subjects such as hairdressing and football coaching and unfortunately we just don' have the staff, space or facilities to provide these subjects on site"
Barriers to Employment
However particularly common barrier that became evident, was the fact that some of the young people had criminal records which would prevent them from being able to carry out their dream jobs, such as football coaching, as this would involve working with young children. One of the young participants made the comment:
"..Im gutted cos I wanna work with kids and show 'em how to play footy but I'm not allowed cos of my recordâ€¦"
Although this is an unfortunate circumstance, the practitioners recognise that it is important that the young person recognises and accepts the reasons they are prevented from engaging in this type of work, and are guided by the connexions worker that the PRU have onsite, who will work with the young person to help him finds other routes to a suitable career.
One of the practitioners made the comment:
"â€¦the kid's here have just as much opportunity of being successful as young people in mainstream settings. The only thing that could prevent them from getting jobs is if they have a criminal record."
Therefore the barrier is recognised by both the young people and the practitioners and taken into consideration when the young people are working with career advisors and one to one tutorials with their key workers.
It is the positive ethos that is prevalent in all areas of this PRU that appears to encourage the pupils in engaging with the process, and the management and leadership is key to sustained improvement both academically and emotionally.