Exclusions, Pupil Referral Units and Child Abuse

It was reported on the news (Friday last) that children as young as five are being placed in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) following exclusion. What madness is this? The fact that PRUs have to exist at all is bad enough – but the fact that primary aged pupils are being educated in them – is ten times worse. What therefore is the problem? It appears that there has been a 25% increase in pupils placed in PRUs since 2011. This represents a further quarter of children in our schools having to be excluded – taking the pupil population of PRUs to about six thousand. That is about 1 in 200 – close to 0.5% of the total school population. Why is this happening?

PRUs have been regarded as a standard solution to behavioural difficulties for decades – but the majority of pupils have been (and still are) of secondary age. PRUs were set up to deal with children who could no longer be educated in a normal school, following a succession of serious disciplinary and behavioural difficulties. PRUs have a much lower teacher/ pupil ratio and therefore can often deal with these pupils and place some of them back onto the right Educational learning track.

It is also reported that only 1% of pupils from PRUs go on to achieve 5 GCSEs. PRUs are a collision course for failure: which is why Headteachers do not exclude a child lightly. Exclusion has to be a last resort – when all other avenues of intervention have been exhausted. So the admission of children from Key Stage 1 is a very worrying trend. Child abuse? Maybe. Certainly, the prospects for a child of five in such a place – educated alongside pupils much older, are dire.

The question has to be – why? What have these pupils done that cannot be sorted out in school? Do some of these children have a form of Special Educational Need that has not been identified or met? If so, is the problem one of cognition, communication or behaviour only – or a combination? What proportion of these pupils who go to PRUs have SEMH with a capital E (emotional)?

The well-being of children has also been reported as having risen to worrying levels. Is there a connection? Are the numbers of children with serious emotional problems on the rise? If so – why? What can be done about it?

The claim of ‘child abuse’ is perhaps a little strong. On the other hand, the life chances of any child with a record of having been placed in alternative education are significantly reduced. Urgent action is needed. Whatever the cause – serious disruptive and/or aggressive behaviours of young children must represent a huge cry for help. So let’s start helping them by finding out what the problems really are. No child sets out to be naughty. Circumstances dictate it. We need to get to the heart of the matter before a child’s life is ruined.

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