This post reflects on the responses of children who left in July to move on elsewhere and the reasons why they are reluctant to leave.
In a PRU it is a given that children come and go throughout the year. Our lovely new HT has come from a BESD special school and was confident that she knew what to expect; as an outstanding teacher she had good relationships with her kids and was confident this would be transferable in her new job. One year later she is not so sure. Yes she has built up good rapport and trust with some very difficult pupils and their parents but acknowledges that there are constraints in our very specialised setting.
Firstly there are problems with dynamics. You don’t necessarily have the same children all year round and a settled group can be totally disrupted by the introduction of newbies. Newbies don’t know our ways; newbies don’t know our rules; newbies don’t know us. Secondly there is not the identity that settled schools have; kids don’t have that sense of belonging and they see others come and go. It is hard for teachers in mainstream or special schools to realise how that feels but we are an assessment centre and our message to pupils is that we are a short term placement. Some children do stay longer than they should and I have outlined the reasons in other blogs. Nevertheless the fact remains that despite the length of stay our kids are very fearful of leaving us. Thirdly our children are conscious of the reasons they have come to us; we discuss this on their very first visit and outline how we intend to help them. Many of the kids quickly realise our setting is much safer for them and more in tune with their needs. We have small classes of no more than eight and good adult/pupil ratios. Relationships can be more intense and vulnerable children can become very dependent on us; they are not used to our levels of faith and trust and having adults to confide in. They are not used to having an adult give them a comforting hug or ‘me’ time in the office or space to chill out in.
Often our most difficult days are Mondays and Fridays, particularly when home lives are difficult. Children often kick off near taxi time and ‘fight or flight’ becomes evident. Behaviour is a form of communication and our most needy kids often fight against us the hardest. They have learned that adults cannot be trusted and the more they come to bond the more they seek to reject us ; this is a form of self- protection and can often lead to violence and the destruction of school property. Often they will break down in despair after a particularly difficult episode and show their vulnerabilities. Some have undiagnosed mental health issues or post traumatic stress or underlying SEN and need outside help ; as SENCO I try and get that help but it is an uphill struggle!
And so I come to our leavers. Four of our boys produced fab presentations of their best moments at our school, three had privately confessed about misgivings in moving on to high school despite the support they will receive there. One boy resorted to pacing the corridors and attaching himself to the HT because he was so anxious. Another child awaiting a statement only discovered the day before he left that he had got his place at specialist secondary provision; as he left our school tears were rolling down his face. A very cocky Y6 also broke down and cried and said we were the best school ever; he had been permanently excluded only a few weeks previously.
I could go on but the recurring theme is that despite their negative actions our children really love us. The most heart rending moment was when the TA of a particularly challenging child who both seemingly adored and hated her broke down as he walked through our doors for the last time. These moments define our PRU. It makes me angry when I see smug commentators extol the virtues of exclusion. I am apoplectic when schools permanently exclude pupils who have been in school since reception three weeks before the end of Y6. If only they knew what we knew. I blogged this morning about reading and the effects on children who come to us who haven’t been given a chance. If schools knew what our children say about them and how they compare us with them they would hang their heads in shame. Yes there are external pressures on schools but we are no different. Do you know that we are inspected by OFSTED in the exact same way ? Teaching and learning is king!! That is why I am glad of the opportunity to meet with Michael Cladingbowl at the end of the month; so I can have my say. So I can speak on behalf of the unwanted and the dispossessed. On leavers’ day there were tears but the real crying should come from a profession and it’s associated bogies who think it is alright to have a system like ours. My children are on the fringes of society and it is definitely no laughing matter.