New show about Hackney Pupil Referral Units heads to the Fringe

E8 scriptwriter Marika Mckennell Pic: Marika Mckennell

A writer, spoken word poet and hip hop educator has taken inspiration from her experience teaching in Pupil Referral Units in Hackney to create a play that will debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.

Marika Mckellen’s E8, the postal code of Dalston Hackney and where the story is set, explores the life of young people who fall through the cracks in mainstream education. The show will be directed by double Fringe First Award winner Ria Parry.

It centres around the story of Bailey, a student waiting for a decision that will change her life, and her relationship with her peers and head teacher, who is preparing to leave the school.

Mckennell said: “The Pupil Referral Units I worked in is very unusual – at best it’s a family. I wanted to show the humanity and struggles of people there. I didn’t want to write a political play, I wanted to tell truthful stories – which in an age of spin and rhetoric, is probably political.”

The story aims to shine a light on the experience of these young people, for whom school is often a refuge from chaotic home lives, and the teachers who are caring for them in increasingly under-resourced environments.

Pic: Mobius Industries

Pupil Referral Units are alternative education provision provided for children who are unable to attend schools through exclusion, short- or long-term illness or other reasons.

According to the statistics from Department of Education published on June 27, the number of students in Pupils Referral Units in England has shown an increasing trend over the past five years with 16135 pupils in total in 2019, compared to 13585 pupils in 2015.

However, despite the rising intake, the number of Pupil Referral Units has fallen from 362 in 2015 to 352 in 2019.

Source: National Statistics

Mckennell told EastLondonLines that she thinks the education provision system in place seems very frustrating.

She said: “I think a lot of people understand that we just need more resources and there’s a lot of people in the communities doing amazing work such as setting up their own organizations and supporting each other, but they are just underfunded.”

She added: “A lot of funding for education or services has been cut, so it means that the teachers are becoming more overworked and they don’t have the supervision. In the role we were doing the therapist, teacher, mental and child advocate, we do home visits, we pick students up from police station if they were arrested. So many times we go above and beyond. Those things particularly in the therapeutic role require a lot of support emotionally.”

“So in my play when the head teacher is leaving to do a PhD which to me was kind of a metaphor for that she wanted to get out of the real situation in order to go into a more intellectual one and try to make sense of it. But the reality is that this is what’s happening and where we’re at so we have to move on.”

The show will debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from July 31 to August 25. For more information and tickets you can visit E8 on Fringe website.

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