Unruly pupils given new chance

WHERE would your child go if they were expelled from school? Education reporter JAMES MARSTON takes a closer look at Alderwood Pupil Referral Unit which tries to turn life around for expelled students, by uncovering the reasons for their bad behaviour.

WHERE would your child go if they were expelled from school?

Education reporter JAMES MARSTON takes a closer look at Alderwood Pupil Referral Unit which tries to turn life around for expelled students, by uncovering the reasons for their bad behaviour.

YOU wouldn't really know it was there unless you were looking for it.

Tucked away next to Piper's Vale Primary School, in Raeburn Road, Alderwood Pupil Referral Unit consists of just three classrooms for 13 pupils. It opened two years ago and as one of just two such institutions in Ipswich, it is one of Suffolk's smallest and newest 'schools'.

Headteacher Denise Morcom said: “We look on ourselves as a school but we are in fact a pupil referral unit. We operate as a school and that is really important to us. We are set up on the same principles as other schools with our primary function being to educate children.”

The PRU is there to support children who have found it difficult to study in mainstream classrooms because of social emotional and behavioural difficulties.

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Denise said: “Our aim is to get those children back into mainstream schools and learning alongside their peers. We set the target off doing that within two to three terms.”

The staff - pupil ratio is high at Alderwood. There are three teachers and three behaviour support assistants. Three teachers and six behaviour support staff also work in the school's 'outreach' service in the community.

Alderwood takes pupils from seven high schools - Orwell, Deben, Westbourne, Farlingaye, Kesgrave, Holywells - and all their feeder primary schools.

She said: “We work with children in key stage two to three aged between 8 and 14. They have a diverse number of conditions and could be diagnosed with things like ADHD, autism, Aspberger's Syndrome, or other disorders on the autistic spectrum.

“The difficulties present themselves in a number of ways and children find it hard to behave within normal boundaries. But there are reasons for these difficulties and that is what we want to find out. We look beneath the behaviour.”

Children are usually referred though the outreach service, so often they are known by the PRU before they arrive. If a child's behaviour is too challenging to be dealt with by outreach staff then they come before an assessment panel before being allocated a place at Alderwood.

Denise said: “The outreach staff work with the school to investigate and observe to try to get to the bottom of the problem. We don't dictate to schools instead we build up their expertise and confidence in dealing with behavioural problems.”

Denise said: “At the last meeting we took in three children and we had applications from 42. There is a huge demand for places here and if they doubled the size of the PRU we would still fill it.

“I would like to see more places available and I think the education authority would too but it comes down to cost and PRUs are very expensive because of the high pupil teacher ratio.”

Each child must meet a number of criteria including being expelled from school or at high risk of exclusion.

Denise said: “In Suffolk there was a really high percentage of permanent exclusions from both primary and high schools. If youngsters are not in school then they are not learning and Suffolk needed to expand its PRU provision to address that difficulty.

A third of our students have been excluded permanently and two thirds were at high risk of permanent exclusion.”

Alderwood and other PRU's, alongside the outreach work, have been successful in reducing the number of permanent exclusions. She said: “The PRUs are part of the behaviour support service and this is something the education authority should be proud of and it is a success story that isn't being told.”

The role of parents is crucial to the success and aims of the work undertaken at Alderwood.

Denise said: “It hard enough bringing up children and when a child has had behavioural problems it can be very difficult for families. Parents are often at rock bottom, they have often worked very hard to avoid these difficulties but sometimes problems are beyond what parents can do and they need help and support too.

“The first thing I do is meet parents at home or here at the unit before I even meet the child. We spend a great deal of time and effort in building up a relationship with the families as the work we do has to be a partnership with them.

“We can suggest things they can try and they are very supportive of what we do as well. That relationship between the unit and the parents is part of making the child feel secure, which is very important in their development.”

To build confidence and improve behaviour, subjects are taught like in any other school and a lot of emphasis is placed on literacy and English.

“Students are allocated lessons in self awareness and something we call circle time which differs every day. It's half an hour where children are encouraged in activities that teach them how to behave. Games like chess teach children how to lose; other games teach them how to work together.”

Breaks are short and supervised.

Denise said: “There is no time to kick heels or hang around during the day. All time during the day is constructed. It is very intense for teachers as they are on duty all the time. It is a non stop job.

“There is no therapy here and everything we do is done through lessons. Confidence building is one of the most valuable things we try to do with the pupils to help them believe in themselves.”

The unit takes youngsters on trips away from the classroom, and involves them in the community through activities like fundraising.

Behaviour targets, such as bringing the right equipment to lessons or no swearing, are set each week and youngsters are scored each day on their progress.

Denise said: “They are always rewarded for doing well with golden time which is half an hour on a Friday when they can do what they would like to do like use the art materials or bring in a game from home.

“But the first thing we must do is re-engage pupils with learning and make it fun and exciting. Children have to go enjoy learning. They are only children once and it is what they deserve.”

Has Alderwood PRU helped your child? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

In a career that has spanned more than 35 years, Denise today can't believe her luck.

The mother of three said: “I have a wonderful family and a wonderful job that I love doing. I am the luckiest woman in the world.”

She is now at an age when many teachers think about retirement but said: “I've worked in mainstream high schools in Suffolk throughout my career, most recently at East Bergholt High School. I have a passion for the pastoral care of children and I have always enjoyed working with children that find school a little bit more difficult. It was an interest right from the beginning.”

Originally from Cambridge, Denise is a French teacher by training having taken a degree at the University of Keele and studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

She said: “It is so rewarding when you see children grow in confidence and overcome their difficulties and it is great to be part of that.”

OFSTED onspectors have graded Alderwood as outstanding, in a report published recently.

The report said: “Alderwood succeeds extremely well in its primary aim of returning pupils successfully to full time mainstream education.

“The exceptional leadership and management have, in the short period of time since the unit was established, created an outstanding learning community in which pupils thrive and experience success.

“Pupils make remarkable progress in their basic skills, knowledge and understanding. They achieve the learning and behavioural targets set for them. This is the result of outstanding teaching, a creative and relevant curriculum and very high quality care and support.”

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