Islington pupils sent to referral units ‘are left in limbo’
Tribune investigation reveals many excluded youngsters face long waits before returning to mainstream education
12 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
Ken Muller said: “Pupil Referral Units are meant to be short stay interventions’
PUPIL Referral Units have become a “place of no return” for excluded youngsters, unions have warned.
“Damning” council figures – released after a Freedom of Information request from the Tribune – show the vast majority who are sent to Islington PRUs are left there for months instead of being returned to mainstream education.
The units are intended to offer a “short stay intervention” for pupils who are excluded from school.
Of the 91 pupils who were moved to a PRU in Islington between 2015 and 2020, more than three-quarters had not returned to the school they were sent from or a different mainstream school within two terms.
In the 2018/19 academic year, 19 were sent to a PRU but none returned to mainstream schooling within two terms.
National Education Union (NEU) spokesman Ken Muller said: “Pupil Referral Units are meant to be short stay interventions, not schools for students to stay until the end of Year 11.
“Whilst there may be other contributory reasons for these figures, it is clear that the existence of league tables means that there is a lot more pressure on schools to exclude young people and to limit the support offered to them to reintegrate back, particularly if they think their exam performance will bring down the schools results.”
The New River College sites are Islington’s group of PRUs, which were previously known as Pupil Re-integration Units.
For a child to be sent there, a headteacher from their mainstream school has to make an application to the Securing Education Board – made up of teachers from schools across the borough. The most common reason for requesting that a pupil be placed in a PRU is if he or she has been excluded.
An application can also be made if the child is experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties.
The Department for Education’s (DfE) statutory guidance states that if a child is being sent to a PRU there should be “clearly defined objectives” including steps towards “reintegration into mainstream education”. But the figures show that most pupils are left in a “kind of limbo,” Mr Muller said.
Richard Rieser, who worked as a teacher in Islington for decades and is now managing director of education consultancy firm World of Inclusion, said: “Kids are corralled into these PRUs and off the school’s roll. This then makes them more vulnerable to the grooming gangs and spiralling into terrible situations.
“Most of these kids will also have severe learning disabilities or have experienced trauma. The system is now letting them down and schools are using PRUs to get rid of children that are causing them trouble. PRUs have become a place of no return for these kids.”
But Islington’s education chief, Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, said: “We recognise that moving young people out of mainstream education can have negative consequences, and for that reason we urge schools to only use exclusions as an absolute last resort.
“Where it is necessary for a young person to leave mainstream education, the New River College, a collection of four pupil referral units in Islington, works tirelessly to provide educational and emotional support.”
A DfE spokesman said: “There are no specific limits for the duration of a placement in alternative provision, which will depend on what best supports the pupil’s needs and their educational attainment.”