2016 Special schools and alternative provision schools National Winner - The Link School, Pallion

Using the pupil premium funding to support the disengaged

The Link School, Pallion is a key stage 4 alternative provision school working with some of the most challenging and disengaged young people in Sunderland.  Over 90% of them are already identified as persistent non-attenders before they arrive at the school and 75% have an attendance rate of less than 65% on entry.  

Approximately 70% of our young people attract Pupil Premium and this brings a significant additional income to the school.  Historically, approximately two thirds of our young people engage with the school offer on entry, which leads to increased attendance rates, good progress and good outcomes in terms of achieving a range of qualifications including GCSE English and maths.  However, there are still a third of whom, for reasons often unconnected with school, fail to engage.  These reasons may include turbulent and traumatic living arrangements, poor mental health and difficult social relationships with peers.  These young people are often in receipt of pupil premium, and it was this group, that have been identified as ‘hard to reach’ that the school wished to target. 

The school recognises that whilst the primary function is to provide education, if it does not in some way alleviate or remove the barriers to learning that are in our young people’s homes or local community, then we will not be able to reach them.  Experience tells us that what makes a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged learners is passionate, committed people working with them. 

Within our staffing structure, we recruited skilled 1-1 tutors who were able to deliver a range of GCSEs but also had an extensive background of working with vulnerable people, so understood the challenges that they face.  Secondly, we recruited a family key worker.  The role of the family key worker was to support young people and their families with the non-educational problems they were facing.  The key worker was able to signpost to a range of services and support and also support parents/carers in managing some of the challenging behaviour from young people, which they often faced in the home.  Significantly, the key worker is line managed by the Director of Safeguarding and this allows him to monitor situations within young people’s lives providing information and evidence indicating when referrals to agencies such as social care may be appropriate.  As part of our development of behaviour, safety and welfare we invested in an online child protection monitoring system which also meant we were able to gather a clearer picture of what was happening in young people’s lives, allowing for more effective intervention.  Policies were developed and ratified including a 1-1 working policy, a Re-engagement Policy and supporting documentation and the Attendance Policy was updated.  The school also introduced a weekly meeting attended by the Headteacher, Director of Safeguarding, Lead Behaviour Officer, Pastoral Lead and Family Key Worker.  In this meeting each child is discussed and their attendance and engagement is closely monitored.  This allows leaders within the school to target intervention quickly and effectively when young people are at risk of becoming disengaged.  

Overall the gap within the whole school cohort between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged is statistically insignificant and the structure and systems that we have put in place have had a very significant impact on our ‘hard to reach’ group.  We are able to identify and intervene much earlier in supporting young people in overcoming their barriers to learning.  We are able to create bespoke learning and support packages which ensure that, over time, young people rarely fail to achieve.  In the past two years 98% of them have left with at least one recognised qualification and the average number of qualifications is over 6.   

Our young people and their families are overwhelmingly positive about the work the school does in supporting them. Many talk about the fundamentally positive changes in their lives that attending the Link School, Pallion brings. The school employs 3 ex-pupils, one of whom recently won the Sunderland Business Awards Apprentice of this year and another, who came runner up in the Sunderland Young People’s Award for overcoming adversity.  

The staff, pupils, parents and carers were already proud of the school, but winning the award has been a great source of pride to everyone.  A group of young people recently visited London on an overnight residential and visited the Science Museum and the Globe for a performance of Macbeth which was a great success.