We had the pleasure of meeting Keisha Mcleod a couple weeks ago; we met to discuss her son CJ who tragically lost his life after being shot in a park in September 2017. CJ was killed after being excluded and sent to a PRU.
Please see her interview below:
Question: What do you think your son’s school could have done to prevent him being sent to a PRU? For example, you have stated in the Times newspaper that ”being expelled from school left him vulnerable to gangs and led ultimately to his death”.
Answer: CJ was fixed period excluded several times before he eventually got permanently excluded for low level disruptive behavior. However, CJ had special educational needs as he suffered from ADHD. If more interventions were done that took this into consideration I think this would have made a big difference. The school did do some interventions for example one intervention was that if CJ misbehaved he would lose his break time and he had to help teachers in the gym or run around the gym which was a good way for him to burn energy as he had ADHD. However, other methods they did such as putting CJ in a room and expecting him to just sit there was not realistic as he was a child with ADHD so it would be very difficult to sit still without fidgeting. Other means should have also been implemented to help him with his behavior. For example, they gave him a sticker chart to try and improve his behavior but a sticker chart works for primary school kids not someone in secondary school. Even offering him a trophy would have been better as again it is about taking into account a child’s individual’s needs (making something age appropriate). The discipline methods could have also been better; they should have been more nurturing. Ultimately, he should not have been excluded for low disruptive behavior. If the school took time to understand what his medication for his ADHD did to him and what his self esteem was like when he took the medication it could have been a whole different story. The bottom line is a child’s individual needs need to be looked at and I feel that if this had been done my son would still be here. I am not blaming anyone, blaming anyone won’t bring him back but this is all just facts it is as plain as black and white.
Question: What would you say is the link between being excluded and becoming involved in gangs, county lines etc.
Answer: Pupil referral units (PRU’s) at the moment are like breeding grounds. They are overcrowded, back in my day a similar place like a PRU would have around 7 people but PRU’s nowadays are overpopulated and staff cannot deal with what is going on inside them. If students are placed in an environment because they are ‘bad’ how do you think they will act? They will act accordingly and live up to what they are being labelled. If you do not show them anything different this is how they are going to be and this is how they will be raised. They are similar to prisons we are just holding them there we are not nurturing them and this is why grooming can be facilitated (recruiting someone to join a gang or to be involved in county lines). There is not enough prevention in stopping the young people reaching the PRU’s. We are also not teaching them any skills we are treating them as a commodity (i.e. what can you do for us) and this is why the young people do not respect adults and they would rather respect someone who is closer to their age because they’re the ones who are building relationships with them.
Question: If it was up to you, what changes would you make to the way the PRU’s operate?
Answer: They need to be stricter; these children need boundaries and rules. I have seen students smoking at the PRU’s, swearing and acting unruly, a student even bought a gun into my son’s PRU, what is that about? There also needs to be a better understanding why the child got excluded to see what help can be offered to allow the student to successfully reintegrate back into a mainstream school. The PRU’s should be a stop gap, nothing more and nothing less. If the student is in a PRU for more than six weeks questions need to be asked and a review needs to be done. We need to start asking questions why some children are in PRU’s for several years, for example I know someone whose son has been in one from Year 4 to Year 10. There also needs to be a person centred approach which looks at the child holistically: what is going on at home, how is the living accommodation, what are the students social skills like and what goes on in their area. I understand mainstream schools have cuts but that is where children are spending the majority of their time so mainstream schools need to be more nurturing as a whole too. Too many people currently are happy not making any changes and this mentality needs to change.
Question: Do you think a service like Say It With Your Chest is needed?
Answer: We are dealing with children and if we are not nurturing them then we will be in a society of cold people as we will become desensitised to these situations. There are people who are dying but there are also lots of young people who are being stabbed and surviving but they are not receiving help. I believe some of these young people have urban anxiety; this is where you live in a certain area and simply because of where you live you are anxious because you know you cannot leave your house at certain times. This makes me angry and upset because a child should never feel that they have to be home by a certain time that is a parent’s responsibility how to plan routes etc, a child should not have to think of things like that. Due to these factors I feel like a service like SIWYC is needed because it is about coming together and giving young people the support that they need.
Question: Say It With Your Chest do tailored workshops and mentoring. Do you think CJ would have benefitted from something like this?
Answer: There are some young people who will think adults think what is going on at the moment is ok. I want them to know that’s not the case and a service like SIWYC helps show young people that there are people who haven’t give up on them. CJ would have definitely benefitted from tailored workshops and mentoring as it is an opportunity to discuss worries and build self-esteem. Every school should consider doing workshops and mentoring because there are so many students who would benefit.