As a qualified youth and community worker, I’ve always had an interest in working with young people who struggle with formal education, and who are marginalised or under-represented in research. It is widely known that, on average, many children in care find education to be difficult. What is less well understood is what happens to children in care who are excluded from mainstream education entirely and spend time in pupil referral units (PRUs). 

Thanks to a Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW) post-doctoral fellowship, I will for the next three years be exploring the educational experiences and trajectories of these young people in Wales. I will meet with young people in their final school year at the PRU; at the beginning of their first year in a new destination; and once more, 12 months later. My research will also involve interviews with professionals, and the linking of administrative datasets through collaboration with the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank team at Swansea University. This will help me understand the historic context in Wales in relation to the number of care experienced young people who have attended a PRU, and what happens to them when they leave. 

This research is an extension of my PhD, during which I spent one year inside a PRU, exploring the roles and practices of professionals and the experiences of young people. My PhD highlighted the ways in which the PRU could re-engage young people in learning, through caring and positive relational experiences. It also became clear that little was known about what happened next for these young people, once they left this supportive environment.

I hope my research will inform policy in Wales, in relation to school exclusion practices and the educational pathways of care experienced young people.  I also aim to develop greater understanding around sustainable post-16 transitions for young people leaving PRUs, outlining the key barriers and facilitators that exist. Finally, I want the study to act as a platform for the voices of the students themselves, so that they can share their experiences, aspirations and views on post-16 transitions. In this way, the research will outline what is important to young people and how they navigate this period of their lives.

Written by Phil Smith