England is recreating the old grammar and secondary modern system, only this time, based on behaviour not attainment, says Jules Daulby

‘Jules, if you create a system, people will use it.’ A wise deputy head said this once when I enthusiastically suggested a flow chart to explain to teachers when they could send students to our quiet study room.

His statement threw me at first and I was about to respond, ‘Well, duh,’ until  I thought through the meaning of this and the realisation struck me. The room was there to house students who didn’t have a class to go to for various reasons. By letting teachers know how to access this provision, it suddenly became an available, viable option. A planned provision rather than the emergency solution we’d intended.

This is what has happened to PRUs. Initially created as an excellent last resort for children in crisis, it is now a widely used option for schools. PRUs have become part of the flowchart.

PRUs have become part of the flowchart

This is not about PRU bashing. They can be fabulous places and saviours for many children. These provisions do not use zero tolerance techniques. They are not given a day’s isolation for forgetting their own pen for the third time.

But it’s not about school bashing, either. Schools are not the cause of knife crime, gangs and all other social ills they are often blamed for, of course. There is no doubt however that they are part of the complex ecosystem and share responsibility towards the community they serve. Collectively, every effort should be put in to protect our most vulnerable and challenging families within their localities. Schools need incentives from the system to do this, however: additional funding and access to wrap-around services.

It costs around £18,000 per year to educate a child in a regulated PRU, plus taxis to get them there and back. At the same time, mainstream schools are crying out for funds but are told there is no money. The floating responsibility for children outside the system means no-one is invested in the whole budget, only their small part of the jigsaw. What this means is that we are excluding children at an alarming rate not because they are beyond help in mainstream schools but because we cannot afford to do it alone.

Let’s fund mainstream schools to prevent exclusions rather than investing in a myriad of ways to keep children out of class. We must ensure there are wrap-around support services to work with at-risk families and young people. Promote early identification in schools to read behaviour rather than treat it.  Train our mainstream staff to be as inclusive in their teaching as possible but ensure there is a leadership team to support not blame them when they struggle.

Zero tolerance schools risk deskilling our classroom teachers and creating a behaviour culture that is incompatible with the expertise within PRUs, that they could otherwise share with mainstream schools.

It is a political statement when society is prepared to invest money into alternative provision but neglect our mainstream schools and support services. It promotes segregation and means we are creating a two-tier system where the bottom rung comprises the most vulnerable, working class boys from black Caribbean heritage, traveller and gypsy families and children with difference. The message is that you do not belong in mainstream, we are happy to fund your education somewhere else because that will make us feel better but you’re not to mix.

England is recreating the old grammar and secondary modern system, only this time, based on behaviour not attainment. Perhaps we should go the whole hog and create an 11 plus at risk profiling test to decide children’s fate early? Wouldn’t that be a colourful flow chart?