“I’m gonna f***ing rape and kill your mum,” snarls a surly-faced youngster.
But this isn’t a scene from a gangster movie, it’s a school classroom and the boy is talking to his teacher Jonathan. His error? Saying hello.
It’s shocking, but Jonathan is used to it: he works in a pupil referral unit (PRU) in the north of England, one of the 352 across the country set up to educate kids kicked out of mainstream primary or secondary schools – some as young as five.
From the outside they look like any other school but, as Jonathan’s claims show, inside they are actually more like prisons.
He’s seen students smuggle drugs onto the premises in their bottoms and had teenagers turn up with ‘Rambo’ knives they’ve brought in from home.
Gang recruitment is played out in the corridors, and Jonathan details brutal initiations which see kids forced to eat dog mess or subjected to degrading sexual acts.
The number of kids in PRUs is rocketing. Permanent exclusions in Britain have risen by 40 per cent in just three years, while up to 49,000 a year are illegally ‘off-rolled’ – the controversial practice of removing difficult or struggling kids from the school register to boost exam results.
This week, as teens across the country knuckle down to their maths and English GCSEs, The Sun lifts the lid on the scandal of Britain’s rising number of ‘Unteachable’ kids – those who are excluded, off-rolled and disappear from our education system.
Uninterested, lazy parents are to blame
And Jonathan is clear on where the blame for this growing number of out-of-control and violent pupils should sit – with the uninterested and lazy parents who have no idea how to look after their kids and seemingly no desire to learn.
He says that their poor behaviour is often a reflection of the broken and unloving homes some students in PRUs come from – and that parents should pay more attention to warning signs their kids are displaying.
“The students are more challenging, disruptive, threatening, abusive and unpredictable than you could ever imagine,” he says.
Shock school exclusion numbers
2,000 students excluded from school every day on average
40 kids permanently excluded every day
78% of permanent exclusions are issued to children with special education needs (SEN)
1% of excluded children get five good GCSEs they need to succeed
74% of children in pupil referral units (PRUs) are persistently absent
40% of kids are not in education, employment or training when they leave PRUs at 16
71% of children in PRUs are white British
63% of prisoners were suspended or temporarily excluded as kids
85% of children in young offender institutions have been excluded
£2.1billion… how much experts say every year group of permanently excluded pupils will additionally cost the state in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs
“Staff get attacked and abused daily. I’ve had chairs hurled at me, and threats to stab me, rape my loved ones or blow up my car.”
Life in a PRU can be particularly terrifying for girls.
At least three boys were permanently excluded from school for every one girl in 2015-16.
The girls who do end up in PRUS are seen as ‘pieces of meat’ and often subjected to degrading remarks and slurs.
Female student “sexually assaulted behind bins”
“Although sexual assault in school is rare, we did have a female student who was violently abused with an object behind the bins by another pupil,” Jonathan says.
“[And] there is so much venom towards female staff.
“W****”, “s**g” and “you ugly f***ing b****” are common, as well as vile looks of disgust. They are often spat at or disregarded as authority completely.”
It comes as little shock that excluded youngsters are more likely to be unemployed, suffer from mental health issues and end up in prison, all the more worrying as the number of pupils in such units is growing.
Now, going by a pseudonym to protect the identity of the kids he teaches, Jonathan lifts the lid on what it’s really like to work in one.
He is speaking out now because he believes the situation is escalating and fears that PRUs are becoming more and more dangerous.
“I’ve already seen lots of tragedies in my job – and there’ll be more,” he says.
“Nothing is changing. Something bad will happen with a teacher – or child – being killed.”
Hoped to shape the futures of Britain’s ‘unteachables’
Jonathan, who is in his 30s and has children of his own, made the move from teaching in mainstream schools to PRUs as he wanted to help shape the futures of challenging youngsters for the better.
The units run the same curriculum as mainstream schools and are overseen and funded by local councils.
Although he went into the role with this eyes wide open, he has been shocked by some of what he’s seen.
“One girl still leaves a scarring impression. I heard her say, ‘I’m gonna wrap some blankets up, pretend it’s my baby, and sit by a cash machine then rob the f*** out of people or shank [stab] dem,’” Jonathan says.
Drugs are another major problem, with students resorting to ever more outrageous acts to bring them in to the school, including hiding them up their bottoms.
“Over the years, I’ve seen some horrendous acts involving drugs,” Jonathan says.
“Like faeces-covered objects discarded on toilet floors that once contained cannabis and were hidden in students’ bottoms.
Gangs deliberately working to get kids excluded
“If a child smells of drugs or we suspect they have drugs on them, a member of senior management would be called or the police, and they will be searched.”
Those in possession will have their drugs confiscated, their family will be notified, and they may find themselves being placed in seclusion while a decision about any further action is made.
Gangs are a huge problem, too.
Gang members are deliberately working to gets kids excluded – for example by sending them to school with knives – so they can work for them full time.
What teachers say are reasons for rise in off-rolling:
- “I strongly suspect some schools are saying, ‘your child is underachieving, their behaviour record is bad… you can either fill in this transfer form, or we will go through a permanent exclusion process and they will end up having to attend a PRU school with young criminals’.” – Deputy head at a secondary grammar school.
- “External pressures the school is under, the emphasis on data… offrolling is a better solution to exclusions… it can be done without having exclusion on the record, and without months of additional paperwork.” – Headteacher at a primary school.
- “Students with challenging behaviours and obviously weaker students are a target and are more likely to be off-rolled.” – Department head at a secondary academy
Jonathan sees the consequences first hand: while classes at his PRU are separated into age groups, staff are powerless to prevent older pupils – known as ‘olders’ grooming younger kids.
“It could begin with an ‘older’ simply placing a ‘friendly’ arm around a young student’s neck, pulling them close and whispering something to them,” says Jonathan.
“Sometimes, it could take place between lessons change-over, in the corridors – an ‘accidental’ barge into a young pupil to separate them from their classmates.”
While it might be hard to prevent, it’s all too easy for staff to spot when a student has been targeted by a gang.
Horrific truth behind a pupil’s new trainers
“They could arrive at school in new trainers, have two phones instead of one – or none at all – perhaps have a new watch, a haircut or even a coat,” Jonathan says.
“Having new stuff is attractive to them, especially if they’re relatively poor or don’t have friends. They’re instantly ‘liked’ and have a new big brother who ‘looks out for them.
“Before long, you know they’re going to be used to carry drugs or a weapon.”
First though, they are expected to prove their loyalty and willingness to the group by undergoing horrific initiations off school grounds.
“They might be sent ‘on cunch’ – going to the countryside or seaside to sell drugs to people who don’t know you – as a gang initiation process,” he says.
“Or they’ll force a wannabe member to eat dog mess, to be in a ‘line up’ where a girl has to perform a sex act on a number of males in a row, or to stab a rival or completely innocent party.”
All this plays into one of the other major problems at PRUs: knives.
With Britain’s streets awash with blood as knife crime soars among 10 to 17-year-olds – who now represent 20 per cent of those cautioned or convicted of knife offences – teachers have to be extra vigilant about blades being smuggled in.
Children bringing in ‘Rambo’ knives
“We once found a student with a ‘Rambo’ survival knife on the premises ,” Jonathan says. “Another brought in a kitchen knife that they’d taken from their family home.
“It’s only when we hear a rumour of a student carrying that all students will be searched, to make it look like that particular pupil isn’t being solely targeted.”
Jonathan believes that much of the behaviour he sees is simply a reflection of the broken and unloving homes some of the kids in PRUs come from – and that sometimes they desperately want their teachers to be more like parents to them.
“You might get a heart-breaking comment like, ‘I wish you were my dad or mum,’ or even a note or some chocolates to say thank you if the child had left and were given a second chance at mainstream or had been nasty to you the previous day.”
Given that excluded youngsters are more likely to end up in prison – more than four in ten prisoners were permanently kicked out of school – or unemployed, the success stories are all the sweeter.
“Some of our students have been accepted by leading art schools, others have gone on to work in high-flying jobs,” Jonathan says.
More needs to be done
“They’ve all had damaged upbringings in some way but have tried to keep themselves away from trouble.”
While there is clearly no easy solution to the problems Jonathan sees day in, day out, he is adamant more can be done to tackle the issue.
He argues this help needs to come before kids set foot in a PRU – and parents need to accept responsibility.
“Units can be effective, but the reason why the child is there in the first place is hardly touched upon,” he says.
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“Parents need to pay more attention. If a child isn’t reacting or behaving how they should be in school, why aren’t they? We need to pull up that parent to do more.
“Why aren’t they taking an active interest in what their child is doing outside the house and what they’re doing online?
“These are home issues – not schooling ones.”