A brighter outlook
Disheartening exam results and a dread of holidays are all part of everyday life for students at a pupil referral unit, says Shelley Dannell in this month's diary.
I like to keep in touch with my students. I like to know what's going on in their lives so I encourage them to tell me their news. Following a staff briefing, I walked through our breakfast club where an excited student rushed up to tell me that they were having global warming installed at home that day.
I pondered this news briefly and enquired how it was to be powered. Having contented myself that it was gas 'global warming' and that the student and his family were unlikely to be incinerated by harmful rays, I hurried off to see our head of science to check just how we were teaching the green issue.
In early December, before staff could start the Christmas preparations in earnest, we had the small matter of mock examinations to contend with. At a pupil referral unit (PRU) there are particular problems with exams; this does not relate in any way to the students' ability.
Students join a PRU at all times of the year having frequently been taught different syllabuses from that studied at the Pavilion. The six-day provision for exclusion means that new students have not missed as much school as was previously the case - unless they were non-attendees - but arriving at a new school and being tested on topics that they may not have covered previously can be quite disheartening for them.
The grades that new students gain at this stage may often be poorer than they had hoped for but we find it an essential tool for us to know what they know and, more importantly, what they don't. As we approached Christmas, about 25 per cent of our year 11 cohort fell into this category.
It's important for them to see that success is possible and at our assembly on the last day of term, students receive their awards for positive attainment during the term. These come in the form of vouchers redeemable at local retailers and have proved to be a real incentive.
While generally one expects students at mainstream school to look forward to the holidays, this does not always follow for students at PRUs. Their often difficult home circumstances make it a time when being away from their classmates and feeling alone is particularly poignant. That is why we try to make the last week of every term very special indeed.
The Pavilion is located - as the name might suggest - on a large sports field, tucked away behind one of the premier residential streets in the borough. This morning, well into the second term, I looked out over the field covered in deep snow along with our excited students who have decided that an outside break is essential today. We are all enjoying what for London is quite an unusual scene. The only exception is our caretaker, as he contemplates what will soon happen to his sparkling floors.
We started the spring term near to capacity and with 10 per cent of our students new to the Pavilion. We have an ever-moving population of students as some are reintegrated to mainstream while others join us having just been permanently excluded.
If we have done our job successfully, the students leaving us will have turned their lives around and will be determined to make the most of their opportunities. Incoming students, however, often have a long process to go through which can, at first, be a tough experience for staff who have achieved so much with those who have just left.
Still, spring must be just around the corner!
Shelley Dannell is head of the Pavilion Study Centre, a pupil referral unit in London.
© 2013 Association of School and College Leaders