Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Tragedies with a happy ending

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For staff and students at the Pavillion, highlights of the summer term included taking tea at the House of Lords and performing at Sadler's Wells. It's par for the course at this pupil referral unit, says Shelley Dannell.

Looking at my diary for the summer term, I thought my PA had been replaced by Max Clifford. Monday, to Sadler's Wells to perform at dance production; Tuesday, to the House of Lords to inform their lordships of how a PRU, known for being academic, could also successfully embrace the arts.

Britain's Got Talent - almost certainly; the Pavilion's got talent - definitely!

So to Sadler's Wells where our students were performing in a production called Destino. The production combined the skills of professional dancers with those of others, from school students to pensioners. The rehearsals had been intense, covering part of a five-week period and culminating in three sold out performances, a matinee and two evenings. All students not taking part attended the Friday matinee.

It was a new experience both for the performers and those in the audience and despite some apprehension on the part of Pavilion staff at what the reaction might be to what was a very avant garde production, it was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by all.

We were invited to the House of Lords by the London Youth Crime Prevention Board to take tea with the mayor, Boris Johnson and various other dignitaries.

Our DVD titled Everything Stopped, in which Pavilion students demonstrated how the use of the arts could change the lives of disaffected young people, was shown. We talked about the production and the students answered questions from the guests. The DVD and question and answer session were really well received but were nothing compared to the students' enthusiasm for a traditional English tea!

What the staff learned from both events was that our students appear to be uninhibited in unfamiliar surroundings and were equally at ease chatting with musicians from the Royal Philharmonic at Sadler's Wells, with peers at the House of Lords and amongst themselves. Staff and students alike gained much from these events, which had been a new experience for many.

However, back on planet earth we have entered the exam period and testing times for both students and staff. As usual I have received the dreaded letters from parents telling me that they intend taking their child out of school for a holiday despite this being GCSE time. I obviously make my feelings known and explain the benefits of gaining national qualifications - as well as the legal constraints of compulsory education; this sometimes achieves a change of plan.

However it is a sad fact that education comes a very poor second in some of our parents' priorities. It is always someone else's fault that their child has arrived where s/he is in education, they say, but their attitude tells a different story.

The annual merry go round of life at the Pavilion continues as our year 11 students prepare to leave the PRU, only to be replaced by an influx of newly permanently excluded mainstream students. Interestingly, students excluded at this time of the year are generally very different from those expelled in the autumn.

Earlier in the academic year, the majority of students are excluded for one off serious incidents, whereas at this time, they are generally Key Stage 3 students who have an accumulation of disruptive incidents and are becoming increasingly challenging within the classroom. These are often much harder to deal with.

Staff at the Pavilion look forward to a restful summer break and we wish our colleagues throughout the profession the same.

Shelley Dannell is head of the Pavillion pupil referral unit in London.

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