Data for England show number of under-11s at non-mainstream schools has doubled since 2011

The number of primary school children in pupil referral units (PRU) in England has more than doubled since 2011, raising concerns that the surge in school exclusions is affecting even the youngest children in the education system.

While the vast majority of PRUs are for students who have been excluded from secondary school, official government data has shown a sharp increase in children under the age of 11 being taught in PRUs.

Eight years ago, 715 children aged between five and 10 were being educated in a PRU, but by 2018 the number had gone up to 1,572, Labour analysis of official government statistics has shown.

The research also found that in 2018 there were 42 under-fives being taught in PRUs, including both part-time and full-time pupils, compared with five in 2011. Of those, 28 children are toddlers, aged two and under.

Commenting on the research, the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “It is deeply concerning to see such a vast increase in the number of very young children being taught in pupil referral units.”

According to the latest Department for Education (DfE) figures, 62 year 1 children and 163 year 2s were in PRUs in 2018, rising to 454 in year 6, the final year of primary.

The analysis will add to anxieties about the rising number of pupils being excluded from mainstream schools, the vast majority of whom will end up in PRUs and alternative provision (AP). The number of children permanently excluded from state primary, secondary and special schools in England increased by about 1,000 between 2016 and 2017.

In total, 7,700 were expelled in 2017, which equates to more than 40 permanent exclusions a day during the 2016-17 school year, compared with a little over 35 a day the previous year. Just 1% of permanently excluded children go on to achieve five good GCSEs.

Secondary schools accounted for more than four out of five permanent or temporary exclusions, according to DfE figures, with “permanent disruptive behaviour” accounting for the bulk of the increase. The number of pupils in PRUs or AP peaks in year 11 with 7,420 students, of which just over 5,000 are male.

The rise in permanent exclusions for the last three years follows a period of a generally downward trend from 2006-07 until 2012-13, and has been rising again since then, although rates are still lower now than in 2006-07.

While many PRUs and AP offer a good alternative for pupils who cannot cope in mainstream education, the provision is variable and there is concern that some schools are excluding too readily due to zero-tolerance behaviour policies or to boost their results.

The influential education select committee of cross-party MPs, which conducted an inquiry into AP last year, reported that an increasing number of children are being unnecessarily excluded from schools and “abandoned” in AP, which too often fails to give them the education they need to thrive.

The government has been conducting a review of school exclusions, led by Edward Timpson, which is due to report shortly, in response to mounting alarm about the rise in exclusions from mainstream schools.

Rayner said: “For too long, the Tories have sat by idly as some of the most vulnerable young people in our country are falling between the gaps and even out of education altogether.

“Through our National Education Service, Labour will reform the accountability system and give schools the resources they need to support all pupils.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “No matter the obstacles they may face or the backgrounds they’re from, we want our young people to receive an education that fosters ambition and a confidence in their abilities.

“Pupil referral units exist to work with young people with more complex problems. The classes are often smaller, with more specialist teaching, and can offer the support and mentoring that vulnerable children need.”

Source: The Guardian

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