New River College: Highbury PRU celebrates improved Ofsted results

Cllr Joe Caluori, Islington Council's children and young people leader, belives 'encouraging steps'

Cllr Joe Caluori, Islington Council's children and young people leader, belives 'encouraging steps' have been made to make the borough safer. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A pupil referral unit in Highbury is now “among the best in the country” after improving its Ofsted results, claims the outgoing education chief.

New River College

New River College - Credit: Archant

Inspectors from Ofsted, an independent education watchdog, visited New River College [NRC] Secondary School, in Lough Road, in November and this month published a report ranking the school as “Good”.

This is one grade up from NRC secondary school’s previous inspection, in 2016, when it was graded “Requires improvement” .

Cllr Joe Caluori, who last week revealed he’s stepping down education chief at the end of February, said: “I think it’s really fantastic.

“PRUs all over the country have been under scrutiny and criticism but in Islington we can have confidence that our pupil referral unit is among the best in the country and it’s really a credit to the headteacher [Nigel Smith].

Cllr Caluori, who is also a governor at NRC, added: “Funding is really difficult for pupil referral units, and all schools are woefully underfunded at the moment, but the good thing about our PRU is they are able to draw in other resources in the community around them.”

New River College is a consortium of three pupil referral units spread across four sites in Islington.

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This includes a primary school, in Dowrey Street, a medical PRU at the Whittington Hospital, in Highgate Hill, and the secondary school’s satellite, in Elthorne Road, which caters for “pupils social, emotional and behavioural difficulties”.

Nigel Smith, 50, has been the executive headteacher of the NRC consortium for the past nine years.

“I’m not sure how much has changed,” he said. “But our drive and commitment has increased, I have been able to recruit some strong staff in the team and that’s helped us to push as forward.

“The pupils are the pupils, they are the kids I’ve always had but now they’re offered more opportunities.

“The biggest challenge is that we want to do the best for the young people with the limited resources we have.

“When the kids arrive they are often quite disillusioned, so we have to work with them to turn it around and progress.”

Last year 23 pupils from schools run by Islington were permanently excluded. NRC centres would have then been an option.

In October Cllr Phil Graham [Lab, Bunhill] told the Gazette he wass concerned pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND), such as ADHD and Austism, were being excluded without being diagnosed.

In Islington, 94 per cent of children and young people on Education, Health and Care plans had them before they were 11.

ECHPs are legal documents acknowledging a child or young person’s SEND, making them eligible to extra support.

Still, Nigel admitted: “We do get a lot young people come to us with undiagnosed SEN [Special Educational Needs].”

“We also get young people without ECHPs when they arrive, so we do have to work hard to secure them for young people.”