Personal Narratives and Student Achievement in Pupil Referral Units

In the last decade, the number of students attending pupil referral units (PRUs) in England has almost doubled, and now reaches over 15,000. Most of these students transferred to a PRU after having been permanently excluded from school for displaying behavioural difficulties and disrupting the education of other students. Unfortunately a disproportionately high percentage of adolescents who attend a PRU obtain very limited qualifications and join the group of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET).

This research project examined the relationship between the biographical narratives of students attending a PRU and their ability to form relationships with teachers and engage in learning. The investigation is based on the assumption that the personal narratives – which students have constructed to make sense of their lives – have a strong influence on the kind of relationships they have with their teachers and their attitudes towards education.

The participants were 35 pupils aged 15-16 who were attending a large PRU in London. The students were interviewed to give them the opportunity to tell the story of their lives at home and at school. Particular consideration was given to critical incidents or turning points and the structure and coherence of the students’ narratives. The interview transcripts were then analysed to identify consistent variations in narrative structure and contents in the personal narratives of students who engaged in learning and those who were only participating in education to a limited extent.

The study aims to provide teachers and other professionals with new insights into the relationship between students’ personal narratives and their attitudes towards teachers and the education they are receiving. It also aims to provide the tools for teachers to use new forms of intervention which enable students who have become disaffected to re-engage with education and obtain better qualifications.