It is widely known that many care experienced young people find education to be difficult and experience some form of school exclusion. What is less well understood is what happens next for these young people at the age of 16.  


For the next three years I will be exploring the educational experiences and post-16 trajectories of care experienced young people who attend PRUs in Wales. The number of young people attending these settings has increased in recent years and those with experience of care continue to be over-represented (McCluskey et al, 2015). At the same time, it is increasingly difficult for PRU learners to make sustainable transitions out of PRUs at 16. In 2020, almost half of PRU learners in England dropped out of education, training or work altogether (Wilcock, 2020). A care experienced PRU pupil who is aged 16 is therefore likely to be faced with multiple challenges when it comes to their future outlook.  

The fellowship has two main stages: 

  1. To understand the factors that lead to care experienced young people being excluded from a mainstream school in Wales, and the impact that exclusions can have on sustainable transitions. Stage one will also outline how many care experienced young people have attended a PRU in Wales, and how many moved into further education or training at 16.  
  1. To explore the processes that support care experienced PRU learners in preparing for, and transitioning to, post-16 destinations. I will work with a group of these learners over the course of the project, to understand more about their experiences and views of these transition periods, and to learn about their own aspirations for the future. 

This research is important and has far reaching implications. To date, no research has previously tracked a group of these learners in this way across Wales. In doing so, the fellowship will provide a unique insight into how PRUs support young people, and what factors facilitate sustainable transitions. This comes at a time when Welsh Government are invested in improving this area of education, and recognise the need for longitudinal work, in order to understand good PRU practice (Welsh Government, 2017). The research will therefore inform education policy in this area and it will help to support and improve the outcomes of a previously unheard group of young people, as they move towards independence and adulthood.  

Activities and Methods

Stage One 

To understand the factors associated with the exclusions of care experienced young people from schools, and the relationship between exclusions and post-16 transitions, a rapid review of the literature will be conducted. This review will be complemented by a set of semi-structured interviews with relevant staff from mainstream schools. 

To gain a summary of school exclusion rates across Wales in relation to care experienced young people, the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank team at Swansea University will link and analyse existing datasets. This descriptive work will also highlight how many care experienced learners attend PRUs in Wales, and how many move into further education at 16.  

Stage Two 

Longitudinal case studies will be carried out in four PRUs, to understand the facilitators and barriers to sustainable post-16 transitions. This will include the use of ethnographic and creative methods.  

Following this period of data collection, follow-up interviews will be carried out with young people over a further 15-month period. Firstly, when they begin further education, training or work, and once more, 12 months later.  


The first phase of data collection with young participants was completed in June 2022. In total, 14 care experienced young people took part, in order to understand their educational experiences and plans for the future. Analysis is ongoing and a newsletter with early findings can be found below.

Phase two of the research with these participants will start from December 2022, approximately four months after leaving a pupil referral unit. Phase three of the research will then be completed from December 2023.

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorPhil Smith
Related SchoolsSchool of Social Sciences
FundersHealth and Care Research Wales