New Clause 13 - Pupil referral units: supply and publication of information

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 22nd March 2005.

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‘The Secretary of State or the Assembly may by regulations require a pupil referral unit maintained by local education authority to collect and publish data on—

(a)education, achievement and attainment;

(b)authorised absence;

(c)unauthorised absence;

(d)the proportion of children required to attend the unit on a full time basis; and

(e)any other information as may be prescribed.’. —[Angela Watkinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The thinking behind the new clause is that, on the rare occasions when pupils are excluded from school, it is absolutely essential that they do not have part-time education; for the rest of the week they could be wandering around and getting into trouble. They need proper specialised full-time education.

The new clause would embrace whether there is sufficient capacity in pupil referral units to accommodate all the students who need them, would ensure that they receive a proper education while they are there, and would monitor their attendance—we know that it sometimes a little too casual, to put it mildly. It would ensure proper monitoring of how many children are referred and what progress they are making while they are in the units, so that progress can be made towards returning them to mainstream schools when that is appropriate.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

We are into the à la carte element of the agenda now, and I begin to wish that I had thought of all sorts of cunning little new clauses to detain everybody for a while. Actually, the new clause is very good and has a lot of sense behind it. There is a danger   of looking at pupil referral units as sin-bins, where the children are thrown into the outer darkness and left to vegetate. Certainly, when they go to such units, there is often a sense of relief in the school: people are glad to see the back of them because they have been problematic. However, they will go on being problematic unless the PRU does the job and changes their behaviour, their level of attainment, or their general demeanour. That is essential.

If all that happens in the PRU is that a pupil goes on for a few more years in perhaps a more managed environment, but does not fundamentally achieve any more or change in any way, that pupil who has been thrown out of school as a problem will eventually go out into the world as a problem. Society picks up the tab for that. There is a lot of sense in a system in which the buck stops somewhere. If children are going to PRUs, we must rationally assess what good it is doing them, what progress they are making, and try to give the PRU a mission to be accomplished. I do not mean that patronisingly, but if they are subject to the same rigours as established, mainstream institutions, they will recognise that their job is every bit as, if not more important than, what happens in the mainstream.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

It worth establishing at the beginning that about 60 per cent. of the young people in most PRUs are not there because of behavioural problems in school, but because they have been hospitalised or have health problems, or problems with teenage pregnancy and so on. It is worth pointing that out, because there are often misconceptions about what type of young people are in PRUs.

The new clause would enable the regulations to require PRUs to collect and publish data on levels of achievement, attainment and absence, numbers of full-time pupils and any other prescribed information. I hope to show that we do not need the regulations to obtain that information. Some of it is already published. The PRU census is published each year and already collects information on gender, ethnicity, free school meals, the number of pupils with statements of special educational needs and the number of pupils who are dual registered.

Some of the information is not published. There are several reasons why we do not publish information on educational achievement and attainment in PRUs. Many pupils passing through the PRUs never sit an exam. As the majority of pupils spend fewer than two terms in a PRU, any achievement and attainment data collected would not give a reliable picture of the educational standards in that PRU, but would merely present a snapshot at a particular moment.

One of the main ambitions behind the PRU is to re-engage the pupil in learning, with a view to their speedy reintegration into mainstream education. Although that often means a more flexible pattern of study and assessment, it does not mean a lower standard of care. Achievement and attainment data are recorded on a pupil’s individual learning plan, which goes with that pupil when he or she returns to the mainstream school. That allows the school to see how the pupil has   progressed while attending the PRU. The achievement of pupils who are dual registered is captured by their mainstream school.

All PRUs are different. A hospital PRU will be different from a PRU for teenage mothers, which will be different again from a PRU catering for merely excluded pupils. Some PRU pupils are part-time, while some are dual registered and continue to attend a mainstream school for part of their time. Pupils who are sick are required to attend school for only five hours a week. It would therefore be difficult and misleading to publish comparative data.

Sharing information about achievement and attainment would not necessarily be a useful form of accountability. Individual learning plans are focused on the specific needs of the child, not always their educational attainment. For example, a pupil with behavioural problems would probably have goals connected with their behaviour rather than their academic achievements. In that sense, it is important to realise that the goals of PRUs, their staff and their pupils are the not the same as those for mainstream schools.

On the collection and publication of data on authorised and unauthorised absence, PRUs are legally obliged to keep an admissions register and an attendance register. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards said in his letter of December of last year, there is currently no requirement on PRUs to pass on such data. I undertook to correct that. We intend to contact local authorities in England before the end of the school year, in order to allow those data to be collected for the 2006–07 academic year.

The new clause proposes publishing information on

“the proportion of children required to attend the unit on a full time basis”.

In order for the PRUs to collect and publish data on authorised and unauthorised absences, they will have to know which pupils are full-time and which are part-time. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to set that out in the regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I am encouraged by some of the Minister’s comments about the intention to collect absence data in future, and about the number of children attending full-time. Those two things are crucial to a child’s progress, and to ensuring that they are not truanting, but receiving a full-time education.

On recording attainment levels, I take the Minister’s point that students are often in PRUs for only a relatively short period, so it is difficult to map progress or to give a general indication of attainment. Each child is an individual. However, the service provided is quite different from that provided in a mainstream school and each child needs individual reporting and monitoring that take on board the circumstances that led to the child being placed in the PRU, and predictions of how long it might take to turn them round and send them back into a mainstream school. There ought to be some means of plotting their progress, although it may be completely different from the way that that is done in a mainstream school.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 5:00 pm, 22nd March 2005

I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns about pupil plans. The pupils in question often work with mentors, and their progress requires a high level of involvement with teachers and mentors. How would one measure a school such as the one that I went to in Fulham a couple of weeks ago? It took on several young people who were on the verge of being excluded from their mainstream school. To avoid exclusion, the school took them into the PRU and worked with them to get them back into their school. Measuring such work is difficult. Its prime aim is to sort out pupils’ behaviour and get them back into the mainstream, where most of them could be. The Government plan to introduce personalised learning plans, which will plot the individual’s progress.

The arguments are put in terms of numbers and the different reasons why young people are in PRUs. Some are there to prevent them from being excluded, some are there because of ill health or teenage pregnancy and some are there just to try to get their behaviour sorted out and get them back into a mainstream school so that when they leave they will be able to go into employment or further education, which many of them are able to do. It is very difficult to measure all those things in the way that the hon. Lady is asking.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I think I understand from the Minister’s last comments that there will be some means of reporting on the progress of each student and liaising with the mainstream school from which they may have been excluded and to which they hope to return. I thank him for that reassurance and, on those grounds, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.