Pupil Referral Units seen as an afterthought

Children’s Commissioner for Wales claims pupil referral units seen as an afterthought

A report looking at pupil referral units, where some of Wales’ most vulnerable learners are taught, has concluded that practice is inconsistent and that they’re too often seen as an afterthought both within local and national priorities.

The report by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales examined the provision of education in pupil referral units (PRUs) and focussed on the views of learners, their wellbeing and their right to education. Among the findings were:

  • That practice in PRUs remains inconsistent: it’s ‘the Cinderella education service’.
  • There’s a need to change the general attitude towards PRUs: ‘too often young people are labelled the worst of the education system’.
  • Too many children and young people with additional needs are arriving at the PRU at a point where their issues have gone unsupported and have escalated to a point where engaging in education is particularly difficult.
  • Meeting the range and depth of additional needs of learners at PRUs is challenging, in the context of staff capacity and access to appropriate training.

Keith Towler, the Children’s Commissioner, said:

“Encouragingly, 53% of learners rated the help they’ve had at their PRU as excellent but staff at these establishments have told me they feel very isolated from new initiatives and good practice and are seen as a dumping ground for disadvantaged learners. They suggest there’s poor dissemination of information about curriculum development, difficulties in recruiting teaching staff, difficulties in securing quality alternative and vocational provision to deliver the 14 – 19 Pathway and the last national guidance on pupil referral units was issued over eight years ago.

“From undertaking site visits, I’ve seen first-hand that those PRUs with a strong focus on pupil wellbeing, supported by partnership working with other agencies and the commitment of staff meant that pupils there benefit from individualised packages of learning that provide them with opportunities to achieve. If we’re to see consistent good practice in PRUs, the status needs to be lifted from one which describes it as a ‘Cinderella service’ to one that recognises its contribution to ensuring that all children and young people achieve their full potential in education.”

The report also carries nine recommendations for Welsh Government and for the regional education consortia in Wales, including:

  • Welsh Government should issue new guidance on the provision and purpose of PRUs as part of its framework for school improvement and national model for regional working.
  • Welsh Government must give due consideration to the measures that will need to be put in place to support delivery of the new curriculum from September 2015 in PRUs
  • Regional education consortia should ensure that measures taken to support school improvement include and take proper account of the needs of PRUs as education settings of equal status to other education settings such as mainstream schools.

Good Practice Case Study by the Children’s Commissioner:

“During my visit to Ceredigion I was really struck by the calm and nurturing atmosphere in the PRU. The Teacher in Charge and the Headmaster of the school which the PRU is attached to have a strong commitment to supporting pupil wellbeing and it was clear to me that they know and understand the needs of each individual child and young person.

Ceredigion responded to a situation in which their PRU provision was not fit for purpose with a clean slate and a new approach to pupil inclusion and wellbeing. The results of this approach speak for themselves. Pupils I spoke to feel happy and safe and know that their education matters. I believe that it is imperative the lessons learnt in Ceredigion support change and improvement across PRU provision in Wales.”


Notes to editors:

  • PRUs are maintained by local education authorities and are organised to provide education outside a school setting for pupils who might not otherwise receive an education
  • In January 2013, there were 41 PRUs in Wales
  • 574 pupils were enrolled in PRUs in Wales in 2012/13