Pupil referral unit criticised for poor attendance record

Date published: 09 July 2024

A pupil referral unit in Rochdale has been criticised for its poor attendance record – but it doesn’t actually have the capacity to house all its students full-time.

The Rochdale Pupil Referral Service was inspected by Ofsted at the end of May, with the published report grading it as ‘requires improvement’, down from their previous ‘good’ rating. The Saxon Hall site, run by Brownhill Learning Community, was slammed for an inconsistent curriculum, a poor pupil absence record, and a building that is too small for the students to all attend full-time.

The pupil referral unit, situated off Samson Street in Belfield, is for students who have been excluded or unable to attend mainstream schools.

This unit was graded as ‘requires improvement’ in all of the education watchdog’s categories of quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development; as well as leadership and management.

Although inspectors Kate Bowker, Kevin Sexton and Pippa Maitland all recognised how the small class sizes helped the children grow their confidence and raised expectations, they felt the delivery of the curriculum was inconsistent.

The report, published on 4 July, read: “Pupils respond well to the positive relationships that they have with staff. From when pupils start at school, their behaviour and attitudes to learning show steady signs of improvement. 

“However, too many pupils are regularly absent from school. This means that they miss lessons and develop gaps in their learning. Younger pupils relish opportunities to learn how to be active citizens in their local community, for example, through charity fundraising events and trips to the foodbank. 

“They enjoy a range of activities, including cookery, rugby and a trip to the pantomime. However, pupils in key stages 3 and 4 do not have the same suite of well-considered activities to broaden their experiences, talents and interests.”

Poor attendance was repeatedly mentioned in the inspection report. Despite Ofsted claiming appropriate action to address high absence rates ‘is in its infancy’ the proportion of pupils who are persistently absent, including those on part-time timetables, remains too high.

The Saxon Hall site was described as being ‘unable to provide pupils in Year 10 with face-to-face learning on a full-time basis’. This would need to be addressed if pupil attendance did improve, the report stated.

Although criticisms were thrown at the educational facility, Ofsted did recognise that the newly appointed management committee understands the challenges that the school faces. It has overseen the beginning of the school’s improvement journey and introduced coherent policies and procedures, the report reads. However, inspectors say some protocols are not consistently implemented across the three sites.

Inspectors provided the school with a number of points for improvement in their report, with the most urgent being to find suitable premises so that all pupils can attend school full-time.

George Lythgoe, Local Democracy Reporter

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