Sheffield Inclusion Centre head set for new role
A Sheffield headteacher who has spent the past two years working with some of the city’s most challenging pupils is set for a new role.
Since taking up the position at Sheffield’s Inclusion Centre in Arbourthorne in 2017, Andy Ireland has set about reshaping the work of the centre in a bid to improve its visibility, not only to other schools but also to the council.
The centre is one of the biggest pupils referral units (PRU) in the country and has both primary and secondary departments taking youngsters who, for a variety of reasons, have moved out of normal schools.
It also works with schools across the city as a preventative measure to support those children at risk of exclusion.
Mr Ireland has worked in education for nearly 30 years and said the unit is arguably one of the most important in the city, offering a structured and supportive environment to help improve the life chances for the next generation.
Looking back on his time at the centre, he said: “I’ve been there two years, and a lot can happen in two years. I feel we have managed to make the school visible to the local authority and other schools as well.
“It is a last chance for some children and as we know exclusion is high in Sheffield. The staff are so dedicated and they all want what is best for the children. We have helped more to pass GCSE English and have halved NEAT (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) rates from around 14 to seven children which is pretty good going.
“We have also been able to reintegrate more young people than normal, eight out of 10 are able to go back to school and stay there. Young people are excluded for a growing complexity of needs and what I’ve seen is that schools are doing a lot to keep young people in education and are doing the best they can.”
Permanent school exclusions in England have been rising since 2013 and MPs recently warned that excluded pupils are at a higher risk of becoming involved in crime.
Sheffield Inclusion Centre, which is only commissioned for 180 school places, has seen around 333 young people in and out of its doors this year alone.
Currently, the centre has around 12 young people who are classed as ‘looked after’ meaning they have been in the care of the council for more than 24 hours.
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And, between 60 to 70 per cent of the pupils fall into the SEN (Special Educational Needs) category, with many often receiving a diagnosis on their way through the centre.
Mr Ireland, who has worked with children as young as five, said more needs to be done to ensure young people are supported no matter what their individual need.
He added: “Around 40 of our children are under child protection orders, so there is a heavy social care involvement.
“We work with a wide range of other alternative providers so it gives us a lot of flexibility. But we need a lot more multi-agency involvement, to work with these children requires a very therapeutic reaction.”
As part of the curriculum, some older students will also have access to vocational learning to develop strong and effective relationships.
Mr Ireland added: “We have a much better relationship with Sheffield College and we’d love to have a provision for the workplace for children so they can do some work experience but there needs to be an understanding for these young people from the employer.”
Looking to the future, Mr Ireland said the centre needs to remain central to the ‘educational landscape in the city’ to ensure all children reach their best possible outcome, both academically and personally.
“The PRU is a vitally important part of the city,” he added. “There is only one provision in Sheffield and it can be unpredictable and challenging but it can make an astonishing difference to a generation and I’m just sad that we can’t reach all the children, it can change their future. I’ve seen children go through and complete their GCSE’s, acknowledge where they’ve been wrong and want to work together.
“My motto is ‘today is better than yesterday’, if we can get that right then we can improve the life chances for children. I’ve learnt a lot in my time at the centre, and learnt a lot about young people and what drives them. It is the last educational opportunity for many young people, and it needs to maintain its visibility in the city. Despite the challenges, it has been a privilege to work at the centre.”
Mr Ireland will take up his new position as headteacher of Stocksbridge High School in September.
He will be succeeded by Ms. Tuesday Rhodes at Sheffield Inclusion Centre.