I have only been chair of governors at a PRU for a few meetings (A PRU governor for little over a year). It pretty much terrifies me as much as I am energised by it. You could argue, ‘You don’t know diddlysquat yet mate…’ and you’d be right. But, this new experience is starting to impact upon how I think about our purpose in education and my role within it.
Let me start- everything I take for granted in a mainstream school is far more complex in a PRU. I knew this when I joined because I also run a Specialist Provision within my day to day headship. Data is more complex, relationships are more complex, desired outcomes are more complex, barriers are more complex, progress is more complex, SEND is more complex… The complex list is long, and complex.
I could list all the differences and delve in to the meaning of ‘complex’ but it is the similarities that are beginning to stand out for me.
The ambition that the PRU has for young people…
The power for transformation that positive regard has…
Utilising capacity to make a difference and the life changing impact this can have on a family…
The inspiration of dedicated practitioners to make the impossible seem a worthwhile target…
The importance of understanding the craft of teaching and learning and what to do with it…
Knowing where a child is and having absolute ambition for where you want them to be… (good knowledgeable tracking)
Refusing to give up even when every bridge is burning.
It may be packed up in a different language and go in to areas that are far more remote within a mainstream setting but ultimately people working in the PRU want exactly the same as people working in some mainstream schools. They want the young minds they work with to be successful and confident individuals who have a chance to succeed in life despite the obstacles in their way. They don’t make excuses for them… they just plan the way forward. I say some mainstream settings because I am coming across a rhetoric that seems to say,’I don’t have the time, space, skill or capacity to meet the needs of some of the children I am teaching’. I see the pressure on teachers and schools from so many areas that basically asks – what are the incentives for making inclusion work?
I think part of the problem I see based on my experience of working in Specialist Provision or alongside a PRU is a teacher’s role seems to be seen as rather one dimensional in some quarters. It’s about the end product and for some its only about the academic parts – the easy to measure ones. They top trump other aspects, and I can see why they would think that. League tables support it, Ofsted inspections have supported it, DFE babble supports it… I went to an interesting conference with Sport England recently and saw a fantastic presentation about not looking at targets or desired outcomes too far into the future but getting better at reflecting on the current reality and working out what would make it better now. We don’t do that much in education… we just keep looking ahead desperately ignoring the problem we are facing today and setting targets for tomorrow.
High performance, high expectations are a solid starter for many in being successful in life. In education we are always putting high stakes value on the end result and for some if that is being put at risk through challenging behaviours or other barriers we lose faith in being able to get there- for some that is reason enough to give up on a child. Why is it my job to get them in to school? Why should I put up with this constant disruption? Why should I care about what is going on at home? What about the other 29? Again, there is good reason for this to be questioned. If we don’t then mainstream education can become overloaded with behavioural issues that stop learning from happening and eventually make the behaviours worse. In an outcomes focussed environment these problems intensify and therefore they breed resentment. I am paid to deliver you outcomes… How can I when X is talking through my lesson? How can I when Y is never quite ready to learn?
Of course, with the current Ofsted framework that is looking to change… it may come as a rude awakening for some.
The system we have is currently not fit for purpose and therefore we need schools that learn from both sectors. We need investment so that the right provision is in place within the local community it serves. I despair when children are bused, at massive cost, around a county because their needs cannot be met within a mainstream setting. It is a shame that most communities are not able to provide the provision that the best PRUs do such as:
Intervention before things escalate
Targeted and timed support when and where it is needed
Staff development to meet the challenges some students present
Even more powerful when you contextualise this support and meet the specific needs within a community. I don’t think it is about every school having to take on all the major issues… it is about planning schools within communities who are better resourced and set up to tackle these issues. It is then about NOT punishing these schools through data, Ofsted or national publications that only measure the narrowest of outcomes. How do we measure Inclusion? How do we reward schools with high EHCP provision? How do we recognise children turned around and saved from a life less desirable?
I am not aiming this at some progressive ideology… I believe our ultimate aim is about keeping children in education and I am open to the different ways this is being done up and down the country. I note the love, respect and expectation shown within the most traditional school settings as much as my own. It’s about having a plan to support all the children we have in the system and how that system can be supported to work in harmony rather than in silos. I’ve got a lot more thinking to do…