School that’s there for us

Date published: 23 July 2009

OLDHAM’S Pupil Referral Unit swept the board with “outstanding” grades in its recent inspection report. Reporter Karen Doherty found out why the unit which caters for a range of children such as excluded pupils and young mums is one of the best.

“The school is just amazing. It’s just fantastic and the staff are really nice. They give you all the support you need.”

Laura Lawton bubbles with enthusiasm as she talks about Oldham’s Pupil Referral Unit.

She joined at the beginning of Year 8 after being repeatedly excluded from school for her behaviour. Nearly four years later, she is waiting for her GCSE results and looking forward to starting a hair and beauty course at college.

“I was a bit nervous at first, I did not really like coming in,” admitted the 15-year-old, “I was out of school quite a bit, but I came here and the staff are really good. They give you one-to-one sessions when you need it. I have enjoyed everything.”

The unit is split over two sites with pupil support centres at Broadbent Road, Watersheddings, and Dean Street, Failsworth, which also houses a specialist learning centre.

And inspectors from the education watchdog Ofsted are clearly impressed, judging it to be one of the best in the country during a recent visit.

They found that pupils who have been excluded from school, are at risk of exclusion or have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties make excellent progress at the pupil support centres.

Many have a long histories of behavioural difficulties, but the vast majority move on to mainstream schools, further education and work.

The inspectors also said that vulnerable pupils such as pregnant girls, young mums and pupils with mental-health problems take enormous strides and become confident young people at the specialist learning centre.

“This is an outstanding PRU which meets the needs of all the pupils exceptionally well,” stated Ofsted.

“Pupils are exceptionally positive about the way the unit transforms their lives.”

Laura’s mum, Sharon (41) agrees and said: “I was constantly in school. Laura would be in for one day and then they would phone me and say she had been excluded because of her behaviour.

“I thought she was just going to have nothing, she wasn’t going to do any exams. I never thought she was going to get this far. I am really proud of her. It’s all down to the teachers, the staff and the PRU, they have been fantastic.”

Head teacher Nikki Shaw was praised by Ofsted for her outstanding vision and thinks that the PRU’s strengths included its close relationships with parents and the support it offers families.

As a national leader of education, she shares her expertise with struggling schools, and said: “We know the children and we know the families, we know what’s going on in their lives.”

Pupils who can stay for as little as a few weeks receive tailored learning and are taught together according to personality rather than age.

Relationships between all staff and pupils are built on trust and respect and another key aspect is a consistent approach to behaviour.

“It’s not a secret or a magic wand. Behaviour management is about being consistent all of the time with all of the children and being firm but fair,” explained Nikki.

Alex Wood joined the specialist learning centre in October and gave birth to son Ashley 21 weeks ago.

The 15-year-old is studying hair and beauty two days a week at Oldham College, is doing work experience in a salon and sat her GCSE English a year early.

“I was scared, I thought I would do nothing,” said Alex who will return to Counthill School in September.

The centre has its own nursery as well as dealing with the practical side of parenting and Nikki said: “Being a mum doesn’t come with a book. It’s hard as an adult being a mother for the first time.”

A nursery place has been arranged for Ashley when Alex returns to school and Evonne Krussmann, case load teacher at the specialist learning centre, said: “We always put together a reintegration programme and we have worked very closely with the school to get a package for Alex.

The specialist learning centre also works with children who are out of school for medical reasons from a broken leg to serious illnesses such as leukaemia or mental health issues.

Evonne added: “What makes the job so interesting and satisfying is seeing Alex and other pupils reintegrate back into school.”