To exclude or not to exclude?

Since the end of term I have felt unusually apathetic about blogging….my last blog was about our pupils leaving us, many going to mainstream high schools with little support other than crossed fingers and a fervent prayer! The reason for this? Children permanently excluded in Y6 with little or no attempt to diagnose underlying SEN/SEMH so no chance of getting them an EHCP to support them in Y7! Fourteen of them!

This situation has caused a lot of panic in our local high schools and many have demanded to know why nothing has been done. As SENCO I have patiently (screaming inside) explained why….not enough evidence etc etc. “But he’ll never last in our setting….zero tolerance ” …and so on and on and on….

Now we have gone over and above for these schools by offering strategies, staff and agreeing to attend meetings at the start of term because we care about our children. The harsh reality is, despite what Nick Glib has to say, schools are not very good at managing challenging behaviour and prefer to pass the problem on to others. One high school held a meeting and arranged for a child to go straight to the secondary PRU without even having the courtesy to consult with the PRU headteacher!!

I could write a whole blog JUST on the discourtesy that mainstream schools show to PRUs (unless they want something, usually a place for their difficult child!). I have sat in meetings where heads, social workers and doctors ‘assume’ they can send their pupils to us on a whim, like unwanted puppies to the RSPCA, without consideration of our policies and procedures! We are routinely treated as second-class citizens in comparison with ‘normal’ schools and if schools don’t get their own way, they run bleating to the local authority!!!

Now @tombennett71 blogged in his TES column in 2013 (recently reblogged by fellow tweep) that schools should exclude to restore order and facilitate a calm learning environment, and this comes complete with stereotypical picture of disruptive children in class…you know, brandishing rulers, laughing ( one stereotype everyone is happy NOT to challenge I notice!).

Now I understand this completely, as a mainstream teacher who taught in a variety of schools for over 20 years before coming to the PRU, some leafy, some very challenging! However, if a child is ‘difficult’ surely we can expect that everything has been done that can be done to find out underlying causes and problems before they head to our PRU….and that is not being ‘soft’ or ‘liberal’. The children who are coming to us often have undiagnosed dyslexia or ADHD and it is scandalous that this gets left until it is too late to put something in place to help in high school. Others have severe mental health problems and these manifest themselves in violence and the destruction of property. Schools often congratulate themselves that they have ‘managed’ these pupils since Foundation Stage but *sigh* they are too much now….they have gone too far….we have to make an example….I want to shout ‘WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE ANYTHING USEFUL????’ As my mum would have said ‘fine words butter no parsnips’!

Now I am shaking off apathy big style!!! Just a week ago I felt tired, dispirited, wrung out and was often in tears. Those of you who read my blogs will know I am hoping to take early retirement next summer; my dad’s death made me re-evaluate my life and I am planning to go into business as an independent consultant. I love my job but my energy reserves are depleting….it seems like the world is against us at the moment…..we are a 32 place unit for God’s sake! We cannot wave a magic wand or produce miracles or be what everyone wants us to be!!

Already this year we have gone over numbers and crammed a group in a small meeting place to avoid sending any of our dual placement kids back to mainstream who weren’t ready or were heading for specialist provision! It was a bit like putting several large tigers together in a very small cage! Even then I have still had to arrange off -site provision for yet more perm exes we couldn’t accommodate due to lack of space!! Did anyone ‘out there’ care? No, just moaned about the lack of provision! !

A further disgrace is coming our way next term! We have accepted a large intake of children on respite places…..guess what? They are ALL ASD!!! Most haven’t started down the EHCP route! One HT admitted we are not the right place for her pupil but….guess what? …..there is NO WHERE else for him to go….he is on 1/1…he is costing a lot of money….he is violent! Surely this is widespread discrimination….can you imagine the outcry if schools were to send disabled children in wheelchairs (and yes, before you ask, we do have wheelchair access!) One school in the past wanted to send us an EAL child because he was ‘naughty’ and others have wanted to put nursery children on our books !! Yes Sue Cowley!

There is an ongoing debate about whether to exclude or not but Nick Glib does no favours by trying to gloss over deep and difficult issues by blithely saying schools are getting better at managing behaviour. Our small intervention team are overwhelmed by cries for help.I am constantly called on to give advice to heads and SENCOs.  We do a lot of whole school training tailored to schools’ own behaviour policies and cascade our FREE support/ knowledge to teachers and other staff. Where advice is taken on board and strategies are used effectively, schools become much more self supporting and exclusions are reduced. One school near us with a difficult catchment has not only reduced exclusions but the number of referrals to us has dropped dramatically due to good, new in- house procedures and staffing. The headteacher is happy to stand up in our regular events for mainstream to say how it has worked for her.

Yes, some schools have genuinely done everything they can for their child but many more have not! Most of our perm exes come out of the blue…. these schools have not asked for our help…… (98% of our intervention pupils successfully STAY in their schools) yet the LA tell us nothing can be done….we cannot ask for things to be put in place prior to exclusion!!

There seems to be no debate on what happens to excluded children……some as young as 4!!….other than ‘kick them out’. Why,  in a so- called civilised society, are we willing to write off very young children with huge underlying issues? Is it right to pack them like sardines in PRUs with no positive role models around them other than the adults? Yes we do a great job ( people keep telling us that!) but as we have found to our cost this year, there is a downside….going from a PRU to mainstream high is doing a disservice to our young people; we are setting them up to fail.

And what when we are full? What then? Due to government cuts down the years, the number of primary PRUS has shrunk to a THIRD! Open more say the mainstream heads! But money talks and it is saying ‘no’! In a nearby area, schools have had to resort to ‘swapping’ pupils which is just moving a problem! More cuts are looming in April….who knows if we will even survive? PRU provision is very expensive, something which is conveniently forgotten…although not by those who hold the purse strings!….

And so the debate will continue, behaviour tsars and education ministers will come and go, all favouring the ‘right to exclude’,  living in little bubbles of unreality, until, like Calais, the problem rears up and pokes them in the eye! A little research and foresight would show that Early Intervention (cheap compared to exclusion) DOES work in all but the most extreme cases and we can prove it! That is why our school may be RI on data but outstanding where it counts….out in the community! There is no magic bullet and schools need to do more for their children. One head recently remarked dryly that she had a school full of pupils that a nearby establishment struggled to manage one of!! Strange that….

I would like to see much more of a debate about ‘life after exclusion’ and we need to be creative as the money tree has withered (unless you are a Lord of course)! So Tom Bennett, I am passing you the gauntlet; you are high profile and have the power to ask questions in high places, stir the pot! And you too Laura McInerney! Let’s start a #lifeafterexclusion debate and be solution focused! Our children need us!


Transition Anxiety

I am motivated to blog on a subject which looms large amongst all children at this time of year…..from nursery right up to university and beyond….transition.

It particularly impacts on the children in our PRU because they have already experienced rejection on a cataclysmic scale from their mainstream schools; they are now in a place of safety where their needs are being met and are having to face up to leaving us.

Last summer I blogged on this very subject under the title….’They love us really’…and touched on reactions from children passing through our doors for the very last time….this time we haven’t even finished yet but the angst is more heart-rending than ever. So has anything changed? Worsened might be a better description! We currently have fifteen year 6 leavers out of 37 children ( yes we are over our maximum number of 32) and other assorted pupils are
moving to mainstream and specialist provision. Ten children will return to us in September so the majority are suffering from transition anxiety.

So how does this manifest itself? Well, we are a PRU so it tends to come out in behaviour. Some children are more subdued than usual…..some are nervy and hyper…..others are aggressive, more so than usual, and set out to punish us for sending them away. There are tears, tantrums and angry outbursts which can involve extreme violence; we have involved the police on occasion! Obviously this is not a road we want to go down but we have to when normal constraints no longer apply; this can come as a shock to our young people but may act as a wake-up call.

The tears don’t stop with the children either…..I have shed tears of frustration when faced with schools who press the panic button when they see our provision linked to their new pupils!! Unfortunately many of our leavers came to us too late to look at for statutory assessment and I fear for their futures. I have lost count of the number of times high school staff have mentioned ‘zero tolerance’ in connection with even minor transgressions let alone swearing or leaving class or throwing furniture!

The other day I met with a high school about a looked after child who is heading their way. He actually stands a better chance than most and is looking forward to next term….however they have been watching him on his transition days and talked about him being ‘vulnerable’ ‘sad’ ‘flat’ ‘aloof’….they demanded that we put in for an EHCP even though we have no evidence! His mainstream school let him down but we are being blamed!! I asked what an EHCP would do to help him settle but received no answer….I know they were thinking it would help get rid of him to specialist provision!! He is not a special school boy!! I asked if he was the only vulnerable Y7 going to their school….again no answer!!

I am meeting with another high school  receiving some of our pupils …staff have already highlighted negative behaviours from their transition days. One of the items on the agenda is to discuss how they can be ‘punished’ in September for these transgressions!!! ( this has come from the head!) It beggars belief and I will be addressing this in no uncertain terms!

Some of our children are going to specialist high school provision and I went with them on a recent visit. I saw some ex pupils whilst I was there…some are doing well, others are not….I know one of our boys will be exactly in the right place but I know one will struggle to fit in….and they know it too. It depresses me to see what happens outside of the mainstream system and brings home the reality of how excluded our young people actually are despite lovely modern buildings and superb facilities.

The child who will fit in has many problems at home despite a loving family and is getting into a lot of trouble at the minute…..he is very easily led….he is really unsettled in school and constantly appears at my door ‘telling’ me things bless!! I am really worried about him. The child who won’t fit in has the potential to be lovely but is scarred by a life in care…..I am really worried about him too. I find myself welling up at unexpected moments and am choked in meetings….people stare at me!!

For the first time this year we have had to open an overflow group in a tiny room and then move to offering off site provision as we are so full. I have had to deal with the wrath of parents because of this… mum said to me ‘call yourself a teacher’ when her Y6 boy couldn’t get a place with us! Fortunately the provision I arranged worked out well and mum is now delighted! I am so happy…it is hard to turn children away….hopefully his transition anxiety will be lessened due to support from a lovely lady teacher!

We now have a week and a half left before we break up and it is one day at a time for our pupils. Our leavers’ service is going to be very emotional and the day they finally pass through our doors will be tough for all of us. There has been a lot of talk about respect recently but that manifests itself at our school in trust. Relationships are paramount ; recently one of our most difficult boys said he never wanted to leave us. The atmosphere in school is thick with anxiety mingled with fear for the future but we can only do our best to try and minimise these. Our transition procedures are robust and several pupils will get some support from staff at the beginning of next year. I know mainstream schools have their standards and procedures but I hope they will exercise a little tolerance for our children. Their futures depend on it.