Today was the first time I have heard of a PRU, it turned out to be a very positive and intriguing experience. A Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) is a school set up to educate those pupils who are unable to be taught in a mainstream school. The reasons for this include:

  • Suffering from medical conditions
  • Teenage mothers
  • Pregnant teenagers
  • Autistic children
  • Children not yet allocated a school place
  • Challenging behaviour pupils

I was extremely and positively surprised by the meeting I had with the Head who showed great interest in educational theories and has been working on plans to apply and implement these to improve the experience of his pupils.
What stood out to me in particular was his appreciation of Sir Ken Robinson’ view of education, that the best system is one which provides the right kind of nurturing environment in which a pupil can grow as a learner.

The head also showed us his plan which had been created in collaboration with the councillor for analysing the pupils and creating a comprehensive profile which detailed many aspects regarding the type of learner they were. It included analysis of their right and left brain use, a rating related to Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory. This seems to me to be a very thorough way to create personalised learning plans for every student, although I can see the logistical issues of accomplishing something like this in mainstream school it also seems like a crucial gap which needs to be filled. Another aspect which struck me as crucial was the consideration of the psychological states of the pupils, we have had GPS sessions regarding this but I feel like it is not something that is overt enough in mainstream schools. Having a keen interest in psychology and particular focus on mindfulness in schools more recently I feel very strongly that in this modern age of teaching it is a tool that both teachers and students must not pass up. Having a full appreciation of the psychological state of the pupils and how to improve it is essential, if they are not in the correct frame of mind and focused on the here and now then to hope that they will learn in a meaningful and deep way seems in the least far fetched and at the most ridiculous. I would contrast this with the past educational system where the pupils were forced into a learning frame of mind using a stick both figuratively and literally. That stick is no longer the route to a good learning environment and it is time to use the new tools which have been made available to us from research over recent years, helped with the advent of fMRI scanners and other brain imaging techniques.

A lot of this research is explained clearly by Daniel Siegel in a Google Tech Talkabout what he terms Mindsight I think he does a great job of translating the complex neuroscience and psychological principles in a very accessible and usable way. Particularly useful for teachers to be aware of are how children may be affected by over active limbic system in their brains. Daniel also highly recommends to teach pupils to pause before they act to improve the community of a school.

Prior to my visit at the school I had researched what I could regarding it and although there was not a huge amount of information that I was able to find, one thing that stood out to me was a comment from a student which stated how much of a positive experience it has been for him, how he was just unable to control himself appropriately in mainstream school even though he tried and deep down he wanted to. This certainly gave me a good feeling for the school and I was eager to see if it lived up to my expectations, I wasn’t disappointed.

After the meeting with the head, we were shown around the school by the mentor, who struck me as a very calm and considerate person, ideally suited to the role of a mentor. The school was not very big, I learned that this is an important aspect of the PRU as it is another factor in helping the pupils to feel comfortable in the environment. The walls had displays of the pupil’s work and a lot of it was fantastic, we also saw one project the pupil’s completed which was a deck for their bike club. It was great to see the work the pupil’s did for their courses being used to improve their learning environment in such an amazing way, this is something I think can really help to bring the work they do have meaning. This kind of project would require planning and costing which could be done using ICT, art could help with the design and DT would build it. This reminds me of when I was considering becoming a teacher and I looked up case studies of ICT projects in schools and found one where the pupils created an e-learning system to support all the other subjects, it is also similar to the TED Talk by Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change:

Designer Emily Pilloton moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She’s teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers’ minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.

These are all perfect examples of how to really engage and show the pupils that the skills they are being taught have real value to themselves and to the community and world they live in.

After the tour it was time for me to attend my first lesson, I also experienced a very odd thing, there was no bell to alert us, I thought this must be because they found the bell did not have a positive impact on the pupils.

I joined an ICT lesson, it turned out to have 1 pupil who was studying spreadsheets, it was certainly a relaxed environment and the ICT hardware was excellent. I enquired about the ICT syllabus and it turned out they used CLAIT, I had not seen this before but it seems that it could possibly do with some added creativity elements and less tick sheet approach. I learned that the school also had a digital art class which was run by a traditionally trained fie art teacher who used Photoshop Elements 5. I then showed the ICT instructor some things I thought he might find useful, namely Twitter and the #ictcurric and #ukedtech, I also showed him Scratch which is an easy to use programming language, from their site:

As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

Next was a meeting with the SENCO, she was a very warm person who also taught Yoga to the students, this is another example of the way the teachers here were looking at the wider view of teaching the students rather than getting stuck in the idea that they are just teachers of their subject. This could also be seen with the DT teacher who also taught sewing.

Finally we saw the Digital Art lesson, the teacher had access to the latest software however he was experienced and realised that the students needed a slightly cut down version which actually allowed them to achieve everything they needed up to a professional levle

In conclusion I think there are things that mainstream school could benefit from regarding PRU schools, however the size of mainstream schools and the resulting fragmentation is the biggest barrier to this.