This year has been a very interesting one for alternative provision and pupil referral units.
The inevitable rise in youth violence, county lines, child criminal and sexual exploitation, triggered and worsened by a myriad of funding cuts, has finally been linked by the media to the work our colleagues do in AP with the most difficult to reach and the most challenging to manage.
We, too, have noticed an increase in the readiness to resort to violence, to abuse, to a sense of alienation and destruction in the young people we work with. Not only that, we have had unprecedented numbers of referrals, four, sometimes five new students per week, anxious, angry young people, with concerned parents, often at the end of their tether, desperate for support and advice.
Putting some kind of normality back into their disrupted education, making parents feel that their children are well placed and safe with us, is only the beginning of a long process. Many students realise the mistake they have made and re-focus.
They do their time with us and re-integrate back into mainstream successfully, their episode in a pupil referral unit a short and not to be repeated disruption to their time in school.
Very many others don’t have the insight or the resolve to do what is needed to return to mainstream. They have too many issues and disruptions that prevent them from being able to act appropriately and learn.
We have had a challenging year – some of our boys have been nearly fatally stabbed, with long and distressing episodes in the hospital. Others were perpetrators of stabbings and other violent crimes, ending up on remand, with bail conditions that prevented them from returning to their homes, families and friends.
Our headteacher travelled miles out of London to enable some students to complete their exams and get at least their English and Maths GCSE qualifications.
All our students left our pupil referral unit with at least one qualification, and even then had to be pulled, dragged and pushed to get that.
But we have also provided care, stability and consistency as well as the best possible educational provision for those who are just not cut out for mainstream. We have cried and laughed with all of them, trying to get them to function and achieve in a mainstream world they’re struggling to feel part of.
The government has commissioned and produced some interesting reports on alternative provision and finally, the focus has been on those who need it the most.
Yet so much more needs to be done for those children who have already in their young lives experienced so much hardship and misery and need more support to overcome the disadvantages the current system exposes them to.
About our Community Expert
With 15 years of experience in mainstream schools and over four years in alternative provision, Astrid has worked with the most able as well as the most disadvantaged students in London.
She is currently the Deputy Head at London East AP, the pupil referral unit in Tower Hamlets, one of the largest in the UK, leading on many teaching and learning initiatives to address underachievement of students in both mainstream and AP. Astrid also leads on curriculum development, assessment and strategic development of the pupil referral unit.