The Key Education Centre, Gosport – pupil referral unit inspection – October 2013
Everything was looking rosy for the Key Education Centre on Monday 7 October. After years of waiting, it finally left behind the crummy portable buildings it had been calling home for a brand new purpose-built centre. It was, says head teacher Linda Alavi, a "dream come true". Then came the call.
"We had moved in and on the third day of being there we got the phone call saying you've got an Ofsted inspection tomorrow and Friday," she recalls. "We were barely unpacked, the teachers had only just had training on the whiteboards 48 hours before and we didn't even have a photocopier. It was challenging. The kids were trying to find their way around and so were the teachers."
While Ofsted's visit might have come at a tricky time, the results of their inspection make for positive reading. After slipping from good to satisfactory in its previous inspection, the pupil referral unit (PRU) has now returned to form, claiming a good rating from the watchdog, which noted its success at engaging pupils and managing behaviour.
Alavi says pupil-teacher relationships lie at the heart of the centre's success and the task of building those relationships begins before students go through its doors for the first time. "Before a child comes into a centre, myself and my deputy do home visits," she says. "We don't do the initial meeting at the centre, we do it in the child's home. We do that as head and deputy head because we feel that we want families' first contact to be at the highest level so that they feel the interest from the centre."
It also helps to put families at ease, she adds. "Many of the families have had bad experiences at school themselves so the head or deputy head teacher can be a little bit intimidating, so we like to break that down right from the beginning and encourage good communication with the family and home."
Once the child has started at the unit, these early relationships are cemented further by the centre's push to give positive feedback to families. "We are very careful to make good phone calls home and not just call when there is a problem," says Alavi, who has been running the PRU for 16 years. "These families are very used to calls from school saying your son or daughter has done this, that or the other so we do good phone calls and send good postcards home. It has quite an uplifting effect and that improves relations at home as well as in school."
The prompts for a positive phone call or postcard are varied. "It could be for work - good engagement with work or good outcomes," says Alavi. "It could be that there has been a (problem) situation in which the child could have got involved but chose not to. All those positive things that we want to encourage."
Ofsted also noted the success of the centre's non-aggressive approach to behaviour, which it says focuses on "resolving issues, not punishing or blaming pupils".
"Staff don't, for the main part, shout," says Alavi. "We are very calm and quiet with the kids because many are very used to being shouted at in school and at home and it's just water off a duck's back - it doesn't mean anything. So we try to address behaviours through quiet talking, coaching, coaxing relationships."
Name: The Key Education Centre
Location: Gosport, Hampshire
Description: The Key Education Centre is a pupil referral unit that caters for students in Key Stages 3 and 4.
Most of the children are referred to the centre after being permanently excluded from mainstream school or because they are at risk of exclusion.
The majority of pupils are white boys, and are dual registered so remain the responsibility of their mainstream school.
Number of children: There are 48 boys and girls aged 11 to 16 on the school roll
Ofsted unique reference number: 133778
- Introduce students to the wider world. "Many of our children's experience of the world is breathtakingly limited in as much as they tend to live their lives within a five-mile radius and don't go out of that," says Linda Alavi, head teacher at the Key Education Centre.
- "So we try to extend their experience of the world by taking them on trips and giving them different experiences because they really don't know what there is to be aspirational for. We try to show them there is a lot out there and help them to see that they can have some of that too."
- Integrate moral lessons within lessons. "We feel it's really important and it runs through the centre," says Alavi. "In all the subjects there's an underlining moral and spiritual element if you like, which all of the staff are signed up to. Many of the children really haven't engaged with that side of life and we think it helps to guide them and think about right and wrong."
- Be realistically ambitious. "I think you have to be realistic in your expectations for staff and students but that does not mean that your expectations have to be low - they can still be high," says Alavi.