Analysis of Education Alternatives

PRUs in Mainstream Education 

Whilst mainstream schooling is designed to fit most students, PRUs are designed to cater for those most vulnerable children, including those who have come from challenging and incredibly difficult circumstances (Graves, 2019). Therefore, it is unsurprising that children attending PRUs struggling with reintegrating back into mainstream schools, as the mainstream schools do not have the facilities or funding to cater for these students. Mainstream education would struggle to manage something like a PRU as there is a lot of extra support and care needed within the provisions, and all teachers need experience working with SEN children. Meaning that the level of support that would need to be delivered would be unattainable in mainstream education. Furthermore, mainstream pupils only receive £5,150 per pupil meaning that schools would not be able to fully cater for a child who has severe social, emotional and behavioural needs (SEBN) (Department for Education, 2022).

To have clear and consistent behaviour standards and the ability to use the correct sanctions is the only way in which mainstream education would ensure that there is a balance of meeting the child who is at risk of exclusions needs against the needs of the wider school community, yet there is a lack of funding, and would cost the Government a significant amount of money to run PRUs at mainstream level (Timpson, 2019).

Learning Styles

PRUs offer a more child-lead learning environment that would be difficult to implement into a mainstream educational setting due to the volume of children within the school. PRUs offer a curriculum suited to a child’s needs, this links to the connectivism learning theory as it focuses on the idea that people grow and learn where they form connections (Kop and Hill, 2008). Downs (2007) cited by Kop and Hill (2008) explore how it looks at cognitive development, and looks at how hobbies, people and goals can all influence how a child learns. This can be utilised within the classroom by teachers making connections between the curriculum and things that excite the children to enable positive learning outcomes. This specifically happens in PRUs as the teachers take smaller classes of children so child-lead learning can take place. The teachers cater to the students need in the sense they offer children the qualifications and help needed for that specific child to get their desired career (Thompson and Russell, 2009).

Experiential Curriculum 

Some children in PRUs follow an experiential curriculum, where weekly outdoor learning is explored, and the process of learning is through the experiences the child has (Ord and Leather, 2011). This form of learning brings the pupils into contact with others in a particular role or context and therefore it is an authentic experience. Due to the fact experience is gained through authentic workspaces, that are highly involved in education and delivering life-like scenarios, the students learn through practice that can be catered and relevant to the pupil’s future career path (Yardley, Teuissen and Dornan, 2012). Kolb (1984) cited by Healey and Jenkins (2000) discuss how the process of learning is where knowledge is produced through the conversion of experiences. Kolb designed a four-stage cycle of adaptive learning modes including experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting and, from these students gain a tangible education and understand the knowledge around them (Morris, 2020).

Kolb built his theory and model based upon the works of John Dewey, who takes a naturalistic approach to learning, where learning is reflective. Dewey looks at primary and secondary experience. Primary experience being material interaction with the social and physical environment, where objects are used and enjoyed before they are cognized (Miettinen, 2000). Secondary experience is a reflective one, where the environment and its things are objects of reflection and therefore knowledge (Miettinen, 2000). John Dewey’s pragmatic approach to education works well in the PRU environment as it offers a holistic approach to education as students are offered stability and it allows them to make connections between their reflective learning and the knowledge, they gain from that (Gordon, 2016).

Could PRUs work in mainstream education?

PRUs would be a useful tool to have within mainstream education, so that children did not feel ostracized from their school and peers. It would mean there would no longer be insufficient resources in mainstream education, there would be better communication and reintegration panning would be easier to conduct as they would already feel still part of that school setting (Atkinson and Rowley, 2019). However, it would be difficult to implement PRUs into mainstream education due to the labels that are attached to PRUs and the students that are within the provisions. Teachers have the most power and influence on pupil’s lives whilst they are in education, and what students learn from them is not just the subject they teach. They inspire children and facilitate growth both in the pupils themselves as well as the confidence the pupils have. Therefore, when students from PRUs are negatively labelled due to their behaviour or their quality of work as well as their attitudes in class, it can negativity effects the child (Chandrasegaran and Padmakumari, 2018). When a child, especially a vulnerable one hears negative labels about themselves, they perceive themselves in that way, and therefore act accordingly (Wilkins, 1976).

To enable PRUs to become part of mainstream education, the negative labels would need to be removed from not only the education system, but society as wider society can also affect pupil’s perception of themselves if they are able to see they are visibly different from others. Whilst having PRUs in mainstream education would be a useful tool, they are only used as a temporary measure for students who need extra support and a school setting whilst the Local Authority find a suitable provision for them, and therefore they are not a permanent alternative setting to mainstream education (Malmqvist, 2021).

Olivia Martin – 209007314.

What if Private Schools did not exist?

Private schools are renowned for their social and educational advantages, particularly due to greater resources, fewer teacher shortages and the ability to selectively enrol economically advantaged students (OECD, 2011). In England, private schools are highly valued due to their contribution of high-earning pupils to the labour market (Savage, 2014). Despite this, many have criticised private education, due to the perceived contribution to social inequality and ‘educational apartheid’ (Adonis and Pollard, 1997; Exley, 2017; Henderson et al., 2019). The Labour Party have proposed that if they were to get into power, they would focus on removing the charitable status of private schools in England, which would result in around £1.7bn in tax returns, to which Sir Kier Starmer proposed would be spent on improving state schools (Cowburn, 2021). This was earlier proposed by Jeremy Corbyn in his 2019 manifesto (ibid, 2021). The total abolition of private schools may be viewed as a radical approach, particularly as England has had twenty Eton College educated prime ministers as of Boris Johnson (Adams, 2019). Additionally, White (2015) argues that as a democratic society, why should parents be prevented from spending their money how they please? This relates to Brown’s (1990) concept of parentocracy, where-by the education of children is becoming increasingly reliant upon the expectations and financial capabilities of parents (Barrett DeWeile and Edgerton (2015). The integration of private schools into state education has also been heavily criticised This suggests that there may be wider socio-political factors which cement private schools so deeply within the English education system.

In Finland, private schools do not exist in the same way that they do in England (Kortalainan and Manninen, 2019). Most secondary schools are run by the state, and those which are private are not legally able to make any profit or charge fees, the significant difference is that Finnish private schools have greater autonomy (ibid, 2019). Interestingly, the performance difference between Finnish state and private schools is minimal, unlike England (Kortalainan and Manninen, 2019). Finland has Finland’s PISA scores are continuously higher than that of the UK (OECD, 2019). PISA is a global study, which is often relied upon to determine the overall quality of a countries’ education system by testing 15 year olds in reading, mathematics and science (PISA, n.d.). The Finnish PISA scores may indicate that their radical approach to education may be more successful than the UK’s. Despite Finland’s arguably successful approach to education, the director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ conference (HMC) argues that to abolish private schools would “tear apart the fabric of education” in the UK (Adams, 2019). Despite Finland’s success, the idea of integrating private education in England remains highly divisive and arguably unlikely in the near future.

Cultural Capital

Through education, an individual is able to acquire cultural capital, which was a term coined by Bourdieu (1977). Although education may acquire qualifications, which can be referred to as ‘cultural profits’, cultural capital is acquired (particularly in private schools) through accessing privileged social networks, and acquiring higher-class cultural competencies (Ball, 1997). Contrary to this, those from much lower social classes are significantly less able to acquire high culture, therefore meaning they are pre-disposed to social exclusion (Gripsrud et al., 2011). Bourdieu’s (1984) theory of field, habitus and social capital suggests that those with low educational attainment, including those attending PRUs cannot blame their educational achievement on one single factor; instead, Sade (2020) states that the lack of achievement “is influenced by a complex amalgamation of a hidden curriculum, misrecognised aspirations, parental influences and negative perceptions of schooling and prospects which are all induced and shaped by social stratification” (p.3). This indicates that, similar to private schools, PRUs also have a different learning culture which has a profound impact upon the social, cultural and educational attainment of those attending, although not in a way which is deemed beneficial.

Integrated Education Ideology

Despite the evident success in Finland, particularly with their integration of private and state-funded school (Kortalainan and Manninen, 2019), in England, segregation within the education system remains prevalent. Despite opposition parties arguing that the integration of education would be beneficial to target inequalities (Adams, 2019). Cobbold (2022) argues that integration of private schools and other education alternatives would profoundly impact the hierarchy of school status within the education system. Both incorporating private schools and PRUs into a homogenous school system may have significant impact upon the school system due to the marketisation of schools; particularly as the current ‘catchment area’ system still exists (Gorard and Fitz, 1998). Although this would extend the rights of choice to individuals who have always been at an educational disadvantage, it would significantly conflict the catchment area system, as those who live in the deprived areas would be financially unable to live close enough to a high-performing school (Hirsch, 1997), therefore meaning that inequalities would continue.


Overall, it is evident that the current education system in the UK is very much socially segregated. Although there has been a huge shift towards enabling greater autonomy in state schools, there is still a huge difference in the educational attainment of those who attend the most prestigious schools in the country and those who struggle to maintain their school place. Despite evidence that an integrated school system can work effectively, it is important to consider the difference in the wider socio-political factors which occur in Finland and the UK, particularly regarding the difference in population. There are significant inequalities amongst the privately educated, particularly when compared with those attending PRUs. Although, there are some characteristics such as smaller class sizes, and tailored curriculums which PRUs and private schools share; the difference in upbringing and family background plays a significant role in the educational outcomes of individuals, which Bourdieu (1977) highlights in his Capitals theory. Additionally, PRUs provide a combination of therapy and education, to children who are much more likely to suffer with their social, emotional and mental health, which a standardised education system is likely to be unable to achieve. It is arguable that for a fair and just education system to be implemented, a huge societal shift must occur, as both factors influence each other.

Georgia Kirk – 199020166.