Juliet Whitfield, an SHS practitioner in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) talks about her role within the team:
Life as a school home support worker at a PRU is unpredictable, reflecting the nature of the students and their often chaotic lives. My diary can start the week relatively calm, but can suddenly fill up with home visits, school meetings, attempts to grab a moment with very busy members of staff or share information with colleagues in the multi agency team. The one constant in any week is the two hour Multi agency review meeting (MARM) attended by members of the multi agency team and senior school staff. This is where student cases are discussed, including new students, concerns aired and action plans agreed, and it is here that I get a majority of my referrals and the chance to update the team and school on my work.
Other than this meeting there are no constants, ideally each day should start and end at the staff briefings at one of the two sites which is great for keeping in touch with day to day events, to build up a picture of student progress and school provision and to catch up very briefly with staff. However days do not always work out like that!
As the ‘bridge’ between home and school a large part of my work is establishing trusting relationships with parents and carers who, very often, have had enough experience of professionals in their family life and do not see it as a positive thing. My initial referral may be as a result of concerns about changes in student behaviour, increasing evidence of poverty or stress, an attendance issue or where there have been problems with parental engagement. Building an understanding of the issues and obstacles facing families is vital, so the school can offer the right help to the students so they can overcome, or manage, the problems that are causing their behaviours, and so can access their education . I play a part in this process by initially working with parents on a very practical level, letting them show me where they need help, for example by sorting out benefit issues, contacting landlords, arranging meetings with outside agencies (like Citizens Advice, the Law Centre, Housing Benefit), arranging foodbank vouchers, providing support at meetings and applying for furniture from the SHS Welfare Fund and other charities. As we go through this process I am also providing emotional support and establishing a communication route between home and school.
When a student is first referred to the PRU it is a shock to both them and their family, and they are given a Fresh Start interview where they can talk through their school experience, both the positive and negative aspects, and also think about what their goals are now and what they need to do to reach them. The interviews are carried out at home by a member of the school staff and a member of the multi agency team so we can explain what help there is available and together think about what might be useful. This information is then fed back to the school via the MARM and staff briefings.
At the other end of the spectrum I also work with students when they are considered ready to look at reintegration into mainstream education. I talk to both student and parents separately to find out what they are looking for in a school and what their priorities are before jointly drawing up a list of schools to visit. I then arrange the visits and accompany the family and feedback the family’s preferences to senior school staff. If the student is allocated a school the process of reintegration begins which brings with it fresh challenges.
I can spend the day crisscrossing the borough from home visits to school meetings collecting jobs to be done but never seeing a desk or having time to respond to emails or messages. It can feel as if the time spent sitting in a cramped flat hearing about the poverty and stress that students are living in is helping no one, but when you join it up with the work being carried out in school and by the rest of the team, and see the progress that students can make because they have somewhere safe and constant to go, where they are listened to and where they are given quality learning experiences and the right interventions, then I realise how amazingly satisfying it is to be part of it.