Staff crisis at education unit for vulnerable pupils in borough

The Whitley Phoenix Centre, Holmfield
The Whitley Phoenix Centre, Holmfield

An urgent solution is needed to meet the needs of vulnerable pupils who attend the Calderdale Pupil Referral Unit as it also contends with staffing problems.

Calderdale Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) is a split-site school with capacity for 80 pupils working with primary (Stepping Stones on Occupation Lane) and secondary (The Whitley Phoenix Centre on Moorbottom Road) age children referred from schools across Calderdale.

A small number of KS3 and 4 pupils are additionally provided for at The Orangebox which currently provides education for 8 children refusing to attend school or those with high levels of anxiety.

The majority of pupils arrive at the PRU at short notice because they have been permanently excluded from school. The admission of around one third of pupils is due to their risk of exclusion and most attend the PRU for up to a term, to begin to address their needs and difficulties.

However, the PRU is struggling with staffing capacity according to a report by Calderdale Council’s Head of Learning Jackie Nellis.

In her report that went before the Council’s Children and Young People scrutiny panel she said: “Staffing issues dogged the school in 2015-16, with two bereavements among teaching colleagues (requiring two out of eight teachers to take long-term sick leave and subsequent phased returns to work) and other serious family issues requiring compassionate leave compounding a challenging picture for staff attendance.

“Between January and June 2016, 245 teaching days were lost to the PRU. Although cover provision was provided, there has inevitably been an impact on the health of remaining staff who have had to redouble their efforts on duties and interventions.

“Current accommodation for the PRU in its three sites does not facilitate the provision of an effective curriculum offer to meet fully the needs of all of its pupils.

“The Council must identify a solution that can cater for all of the vulnerable pupils that are referred. The Council cannot be left in a position where our alternative to mainstream provision leaves some pupils unable to meet the admission criteria of any provision at all.”

However, positive steps have already been taken.

The PRU has had a new head teacher since its last inspection by Ofsted in December 2013, wherein it was found to be good.

Academic outcomes have improved and are above national figures for hospital schools and alternative provision pupils.

“The current head teacher, senior leaders and school staff have begun to raise expectations in the last 18 months, of what children can achieve academically,” added Jackie Nellis.

“More effective assessment and tracking systems have been put in place to improve the accuracy of assessment and to track pupils’ progress more effectively although there is still work to be done.”