Reflections on Training and Recruitment within the Children and Young People Sector in the UK

I was having a conversation recently with a group of people involved in the sector. One was an assistant in a state school nursery and also a counsellor for the older children who exhibit behavioural or other challenges which may create disruption in the classroom. Another worked with children and young people as a playwork specialist in after-school clubs and holiday schemes.

As ever, when people from the same line of work get together, our conversation turned to training and the quality of workers. It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how life and standards have changed without sounding critical and miserable. We concluded that the most significant aspect lacking in workers within the industry these days is passion and gratitude.

Passion for the work of being involved in the forming of children’s attitudes, motivation, self confidence and courage appears to be a thing of the past. I know that my next sentence will make me sound and feel very old: very few people nowadays really want their life’s work to be with children and young people. For some it is a stepping-off platform to bigger and better things, such as teaching, social work or hospital work. That is absolutely acceptable and should be applauded.

Being an assistant or support worker is one of the best preparations for a more academic career. It should be compulsory that social work students spend a considerable amount of time working in nurseries, schools and behavioural units so that they gain insight into the difficulties children can present to those engaged in supporting their development and education. I am aware that this may prove difficult, as most social work training is generic, which indicates that students must be introduced to every aspect of possible work, including supporting the elderly, working with individuals and children who suffer from mental health conditions as well as the statutory safeguarding and preventing harm to children and young people. Life isn’t easy for people in this profession.

It seems to be acceptable in these times to gain a child care qualification without understanding the theories and philosophies on which education, the recognition of the importance of play and development of patterns of learning are based. Without that understanding I would find it impossible to be able to fully care for children or support their education, no matter how much I respected them or enjoyed their company. There would be gaps in my knowledge which would affect their achieving a well-rounded education and future outcomes.

I have also met individuals whose joy for their work is so outstanding that they almost shine like beacons in the gloom of an undervalued workforce. I have mentioned this before, but at the risk of being boring and pedantic, we fail children within our state education system. We fail them further by forcing them to attend school at the risk of their parents being fined or imprisoned if they do not. When a school holds up its hands and says, “We cannot contain this child”, the child or young person is excluded and then placed in a Pupil Referral Unit. (See note at the end.) There, if the system is successful and the child begins to achieve, they are then removed from this supportive environment and returned to a school because this is the expectation of the governing body.

We have a selection of different private educational establishments where results for children’s achievements are very high. There was talk at one time of getting teachers from these high flying schools to share their techniques and strategies with teachers working within the state schools.

May 2007 BBC News – Private sector ‘to loan teachers’  

Private schools could be required to lend teachers to state schools and share other facilities under proposals by Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

Mr Johnson, a Labour deputy leadership candidate, says independent schools in England and Wales should do more to justify their charitable status but fellow Labour candidate Jon Cruddas said private schools should lose their charitable status entirely. Conservatives accused Mr Johnson of making “clumsy threats” over the issue. Private schools claim many of them would close if not for the annual £100m in tax breaks from being a charity. New charity rules mean private schools now have to pass a public benefit test showing how they add to communities. Some teachers told the BBC that they found it patronising of Mr Johnson to imply that state school teachers needed the help of private school teachers. And a spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said it was not “a one-way street”. “Private schools have a massive amount to learn from state schools. Teaching 30-35 pupils is very different from teaching 15 and requires a totally different set of skills and is much more demanding. That’s the big problem that private school teachers will have,” she said.

Specialist teachers

Speaking at a hustings meeting in Bristol, Mr Johnson said the Charity Commission was looking to update what private schools had to do to earn their charitable status. He said: “It shouldn’t just be access to a sports field and the occasional amateur dramatic society open event.” Mr Johnson said private schools tended to get more specialist teachers and spend more money on facilities such as science labs. He added, “So they have these facilities; they should make those facilities open to state school pupils as well, and they should join in a partnership with state schools in order to get their charitable status. And I think that’s crucial.”

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson outlined his proposal, saying the independent education sector’s charitable status meant it needed to contribute more to its surrounding communities. Schools Minister Lord Adonis said the argument that private schools should justify their charitable status was government policy, and not simply Mr Johnson’s idea. He said, “It’s very much a government policy. It follows the Charities Act that was enacted last year, which requires public benefit to be demonstrated. And I should stress that it’s not something that the government itself will be undertaking; this is something for the Charity Commission, which is a wholly independent body, whose job is simply to implement the law.”

I assume it hasn’t continued as we are now in a recession and a large number of private school pupils have had to be withdrawn from their schools due to parental financial difficulties.

Each country has its own educational approach. I want to offer readers the opportunity to read about Scandinavian approaches to compare attitudes and expectation. If you look on the web page, there are contributions from a variety of parents and some key facts related to start age and educational plans.

My intention in writing this article was not to overly criticise the UK approach to children and young people, but by writing, identify some of the worrying trends that can affect high quality outcomes. Enjoy the read and please, disagree with me I look forward to hearing from you.

Pupil referral units (PRUs)

What is a pupil referral unit (PRU)?
PRUs are a type of school, set up and run by Local Authorities to provide education for children who cannot attend school. LAs have a duty under section 19 of the Education Act 1996 to provide suitable education for children of compulsory school age who cannot attend school. Placing pupils in PRUs is just one of the ways in which LAs can ensure that they can comply with this duty.

Who attends a PRU?
PRUs are often thought of as a place where badly behaved children are sent, but they can actually cater for a wide range of pupils – those who cannot attend school because of medical problems, teenage mothers and pregnant schoolgirls, pupils who have been assessed as being school phobic, and pupils awaiting a school place. They do also provide education for pupils who have been excluded and they can be used to provide short placements for those who are at risk of exclusion.

Some PRUs cater for particular kinds of pupils (units for teenage mothers and pregnant schoolgirls, for example), while others will have a mix of different kinds. But usually, pupils who are in PRUs because of behavioural problems are not taught alongside pupils who are in PRUs for other reasons. For most pupils, the main focus of PRUs should be on getting them back into a school.

What kind of education does a PRU provide?
PRUs can provide full-time or part-time education. The minimum level of education to be provided varies depending on the age of the child and their reason for being in the PRU. Children with medical needs, for example, may not be able to manage a full-time curriculum; they should receive as much education as their condition allows but the minimum should be five hours a week, while young people who have been excluded should have full-time education which, for those in Key Stage 4, is 25 hours a week.

PRUs can offer education directly, or they can arrange packages that involve external providers such as FE colleges, employers and work-based trainers, and programmes provided by voluntary or private bodies. Often they will provide a combination of both. PRUs do not have to teach the full national curriculum but they must offer a balanced and broadly based curriculum, which should include English, mathematics, science, personal, social and health education (PSHE), ICT and, post-13, careers education and guidance.

Many PRUs also work with schools to support vulnerable pupils and those at risk of exclusion. They may do this through outreach support to pupils within the schools, or by dual registration, where a pupil stays on the register of their school but is also registered with, and attends, the PRU.

Registering, Opening or Closing a PRU

PRUs should be registered with the DCSF so that they can be inspected by Ofsted. There is no formal process for opening or closing a PRU, but there should be reasonable consultation locally, including with other PRUs and their management committees, and with local schools that send pupils to a PRU that it is proposed to close. The DCSF should be notified of opening and closing of any PRU and any other relevant changes.

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