Sector report: Pupil referral units 2021-2022
Pupil referral units (PRUs) are legally both a type of school and education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). They are established and maintained by a local authority to provide suitable education for children and young people who, by reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise, may not receive such education (section 19 of the Education Act 1996).
Total no. of PRUs in April 2021
Total no. of PRUs in February 2022
Two PRUs provide education for the foundation phase and Key Stage 2 pupils only
Seven PRUs provide education for primary foundation phase and Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils only
11 PRUs have all-age provision
No. of local authorities without a registered PRU provision
No. of pupils in PRU provision in January 2022
PRUs are the largest provider for education other than at school (EOTAS).
Models of provision:
- A wide range of models are in place across Wales.
- There is a mix of single site provision PRUs and portfolio PRUs arranged over multiple sites.
- Age ranges at PRUs vary, with some all-age PRUs and some catering for a specific age range.
- Registration in PRUs can be part and fulltime. Pupils can be registered at more than one establishment.
- Pupil numbers in individual PRUs vary from around 20 to over 120.
- PRU leaders can have additional responsibilities on behalf of local authorities, such as managing home tuition or hospital tuition services.
- All PRUs are required to have a management committee.
- Total number 21
- Welsh-medium 2
- Bilingual 1
- September 2021 no. of PRUs in follow-up (both special measures) 2
- No. of PRUs removed from follow-up 2021-2022 2
- Total no. of PRUs in follow-up August 2022 0
- No. of core inspections 2
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, core inspections only took place from the end of January to July 2022. During this academic year, inspectors conducted engagement calls or visits to every PRU.
Bryn Y Deryn PRU
Many pupils in the PRUs inspected made progress from their initial starting points. Overall, they responded well to re-establishing routines and structures, and demonstrated resilience. However, most pupils needed additional support for their emotional well-being and mental health. In addition, ongoing attendance issues and persistent absenteeism continued to be a challenge and impacted on pupils’ progress.
Over time, many pupils’ social skills and tolerance of working with others, which had been adversely affected by the pandemic, improved. However, for many pupils, previous gaps in learning were exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, many pupils did not develop their ICT skills progressively due to a lack of consistent and planned opportunities across the curriculum.
Most pupils accessed a suitable range of recognised qualifications at the end of Year 11. PRUs quickly re-established effective processes for transition planning for when pupils leave the PRU. As a result, in the PRUs inspected, nearly all pupils leaving PRUs in the academic year 2020-2021 progressed into education, training or employment.
Pupils who did not engage well with learning prior to the onset of COVID-19 continued to be a cause for concern throughout the pandemic. Overall, pupils’ social, emotional, behavioural and mental health needs increased in the wake of the pandemic, and a few pupils struggled to conform successfully to expectations and routines as the crisis subsided. The PRUs that addressed these issues most effectively focused on maintaining positive working relationships with pupils.
Bryn Y Deryn PRU
There was a notable culture and ethos of supporting well-being across the PRU. Nearly all pupils consistently engaged with the established routines in morning pastoral time. The positive working relationships between staff and pupils supported a family approach that allowed pupils to manage their behaviours more successfully. Nearly all pupils reviewed and acted upon purposeful targets for improvement during this time. As a consequence, nearly all pupils were punctual to lessons, able to settle quickly into learning situations and demonstrated exemplary behaviour in lessons.
Nearly all pupils in the PRUs inspected took part in opportunities to influence what and how they learnt. For example, school council meetings were well established, and pupils felt that staff listened to their viewpoints.
Teaching and learning experiences
Leaders adopted a flexible approach to the curriculum, with a particular focus on pupils’ well-being and their behavioural, emotional and mental health needs. Leaders reported concerns about the variability of pupils’ engagement with learning. In response, PRUs increased the provision of additional therapeutic interventions to support and re-engage pupils in their learning.
Ongoing staff and pupil absence linked to COVID-19 affected the continuity of provision and the quality of teaching and learning across PRUs. While leaders often talked confidently about how they were developing their curriculum based on the four purposes, the operational challenges presented by the pandemic led to a variation in the preparedness for the Curriculum for Wales. This resource provides self-reflection prompts to support PRUs to prepare for the Curriculum for Wales. In both providers inspected, programmes for personal and social education were well established and had been a key focus since the pandemic.
Nearly all staff fostered positive and valuable working relationships with their pupils. They showed that they understand and know their pupils well and recognised the potential barriers to learning that pupils could face. In many cases, teachers aimed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic by teaching pupils in small groups or on an individual basis. However, in both PRUs, strengthening consistency in teaching was an area for improvement. In both providers, the range of learning experiences to support pupils to make informed choices around future careers and the world of work was strong.
Canolfan Addysg Conwy
In Key Stage 4, the PRU provided a good range of learning experiences to help pupils make informed choices around future careers and the world of work. These experiences were delivered through strong partnerships with the local college, the careers adviser and other external partners. The PRU arranged visits for pupils to the college of their choice and from local businesses to explain the work that they do to support pupils to gain skills for the workplace. This work was a strength of the PRU.
Overall, the PRUs inspected had comprehensive assessment arrangements to identify pupils’ strengths and areas for development. Assessment outcomes were used well by teachers to plan appropriate learning experiences to engage pupils and support them to make progress based on their individual needs. Overall, staff had a good understanding of pupils’ additional learning needs (ALN). They took account of pupils’ individual education plans (IEPs) or individual development plans (IDPs) and targets, and planned well for these in their teaching.
Bryn Y Deryn PRU
Comprehensive assessments on entry to the PRU, alongside effective liaison with partner schools and agencies, allowed staff to identify and plan well for pupils’ individual learning and well-being needs. These initial assessments fed into a valuable record of achievement document. Progress was tracked effectively across all areas of achievement including engagement, learning targets and career aspirations. In addition, ‘learner journey’ documents supported planning for next steps in learning or development, with a focus on careers and post-16 options.
Care, support and guidance
Both the PRUs inspected had a caring and inclusive ethos. This ethos permeated the work of the PRUs and had a significant positive impact on pupils’ well-being. Leaders faced challenges in meeting the increased social, emotional, behavioural and mental health needs of their pupils in the wake of the pandemic. In most cases, the increased range of therapeutic interventions based on traumainformed practices provided by the PRUs had successfully begun to address these challenges. However, PRUs reported that external support to address attendance issues could be overly burdensome and not sufficiently timely. In addition, access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) was too variable.
For new pupils entering PRUs, there were comprehensive assessment processes to assess their needs and abilities. These arrangements supported most pupils to settle quickly and well into the PRUs.
Both PRUs had a well-developed person-centred planning approach. A combination of individual education plans (IEPs) and individual development plans (IDPs) were in place across the PRUs. This reflected the local authority approach at the time in response to ALN reform. Staff used IEPs and IDPs well to plan and deliver relevant learning experiences for pupils. Overall, however, inconsistencies in arrangements across local authorities regarding ‘ownership’ of pupils’ IDPs remained an area for concern amongst leaders in PRUs.
Both PRUs had effective strategies for communication with parents and carers. These were significantly strengthened during the pandemic and PRUs continued to build successfully on this practice. Safeguarding culture and practice across the PRUs were strong.
In our engagement with providers, leaders in PRUs reported that continued staff absence due to COVID-19 was having a negative impact on pupils’ progress. For example, pupils often found it challenging to develop relationships and had difficulty learning effectively with unfamiliar staff. In addition, finding suitable agency staff was very challenging. Despite this, leaders continued to place high priority on the well-being of both staff and pupils.
Leaders reported that they had additional responsibilities to manage local authorityled services such as home tuition services and hospital tuition. This has benefits of creating a more flexible and co-ordinated approach to supporting young people who receive education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). However, a few leaders report that the challenges associated with these additional responsibilities were adding to their workload.
In both PRUs inspected, self-evaluation processes and monitoring and quality assurance systems continued to operate. These processes allowed leaders to plan strategically for improvement and to strengthen provision. Leaders demonstrated a high level of resilience and flexibility and managed change well.
Leaders maximised professional learning opportunities during the pandemic. Virtual training events provided them with the opportunity to support staff development more flexibly. Leaders were keen to re-establish visits to other providers to maximise sharing of good practice across the sector.
Generally, the professional learning opportunities for staff align to PRU priorities effectively. This is providing staff with the skill set needed to support the complex needs of the pupils across PRUs more successfully. Staff benefit from professional learning opportunities that reflect the complex needs of pupils well.
Overall, the level of support and challenge offered to leaders by management committees had improved. In both PRUs, strengthened collaborative working arrangements with local authority officers were improving the quality of PRU provision. Across local authorities, there are inconsistencies in the budget arrangements for PRUs.