Thursday, 15 January 2015

Education for Social Justice

This week I had the pleasure of delivering a one hour talk at the University of Manchester as part of the 'Education for Social Justice' Conference. I promised those colleagues attending that I would put the presentation online as soon as I had chance. So here it is:

 

The presentation can also be freely downloaded here - and viewed with animation here.

One of the questions I was asked by a colleague - which I loved for its simplicity and ability to cut to the heart of the matter - was,

"Do you like working in a Pupil Referral Unit?"

Since leaving my last post as SEN Coordinator in a large Catholic comprehensive, I've been working back in a Pupil Referral Unit setting for nearly 18 months now and so far it has proved to be both an enjoyable and enriching experience. So the answer, in short, is 'yes'.

Life in a PRU has its particular pressure points. A big one, in my role as English teacher, is the task of guiding each student through their GCSEs in a much shorter time.  Another is the constantly changing social dynamics as we take in new referrals whilst at the same time having to let 'fledge' those students we have come to know so well, as they reintegrate back into a mainstream setting.

As the presentation hopefully shows, the common areas of 'social, emotional and mental health needs' I come across, and am challenged by, on a day-to-day basis are:

- Antecedents - The events, developments and situations that have taken place before a young person arrives at our door. This tends to involve family upheaval and/or a bad experience of school (due to a variety of factors). It also involves the emergence of 'in born strengths and weaknesses' - frequently autism, ADHD and/or processing difficulties.

- Attachment - The extent and manner in which a young person can build and maintain relationships with peers and adults - patterns of interaction generally rooted in their early childhood experiences.

- Anxiety - The levels of nervousness, open-mindedness and resilience a young person presents with - having roots in their personality, day-to-day family life and their history, not least their previous school experiences.

Having said this, there are also many plus points of working in a Pupil Referral Unit. In my experience, there is greater opportunity of getting to know your students better in a PRU due to the much smaller cohort compared to mainstream settings. This also goes for the staff you work alongside with, as part of a smaller, more close-knit team - every colleague is known by name and face (and football club affiliation!), rather than having a whole bunch of colleagues who you only connect with via email.

And obviously, there is the lasting sense of fulfilment that comes with seeing students go on to find success in their studies and more generally in life, when so often at first the picture looks bleak. When things go well, we often declare (with tongues firmly in our cheeks) to one another in the staff room, "Welcome to the Miracle Factory!" - but as cheesy as this may sound, often you do find yourself marvelling at the transformation happening before your eyes.

PRUs can sometimes get a bad press but what is heartening, as I found talking with trainee teachers and newly qualified teachers this week, is that there are many young teachers out there gunning to give it a go, wanting to know how they might get a chance to work in this kind of setting with our most vulnerable young people - teachers with a genuine thirst for pursuing social justice through education, not just a career, not just the pursuit of their chosen subject.

I think it has been a tough few years in schools as a whole - largely due to Michael Gove's tenure as Secretary of State for Education - yet it is heartening to see a passion for the fundamentals of the job alive and kicking amongst so many.

1 comment:

ursula morley said...

Superbly written and very interesting.