“People think they are bad kids”

Big Ideas Wales Role Model finds joy and inspiration at Pupil Referral Unit

When Andrew Davies, a Big Ideas Wales Role Model, was invited to speak with young people at Ceredigion Pupil Referral Unit, he wasn’t sure what to expect. But the session ended up having a transformative effect on student and Role Model alike.

In this family, no-one is left behind

Pupil Referral Units (PRU) are set up for children under 16 who aren’t suited to mainstream schooling. There are many reasons children attend the centres, from additional needs that aren’t being met at school to difficulties at home, traumatic experiences and challenging behaviour.

“We help the kids to overcome their trauma and offer one-to-one support to help them regain their confidence and manage their behaviour so they can go back to school or college,” says Rob Evans, an Education Support Worker at Canolfan Aeron (a PRU school in Aberaeron).

“Every morning we get together for tea and toast. That’s when I can see if anyone is struggling – maybe they’ve been kept up by noisy siblings and need a few hours of sleep, or maybe something is bothering them. I try to find a solution, sometimes swapping a formal lesson for life skills like cooking until they are feeling calmer.

“If the kids say something nasty to us, we understand they are trying to communicate an issue. We never hold a grudge – every day is a clean slate. We are proud to be a family where no-one is left behind.”

The staff at the PRU work closely with Careers Wales as well as schools, social services, counselling services and local employers to support the children in achieving their goals, whether gaining GCSEs or getting into work.

In March 2022, Ceredigion PRU requested a Big Ideas Wales Role Model to deliver sessions at both Canolfan Aeron and Canolfan yr Eos (a PRU school in Aberystwyth) via Careers Wales, and Andrew Davies was selected.

Lighting the spark

A former Daily Mail photographer, Andrew Davies started his first business at the age of 10, cleaning windows. In 2014 Andrew had a stroke and was told he’d never stand or walk again. He has since fully recovered and now volunteers his time  as a Big Ideas Wales Role Model, connecting with young people across Wales.

For the pupils at Canolfan Aeron, Andrew’s powerful story of resilience really hit home.

“Andrew opened their eyes to the possibility of starting a business – but more than that, he treated each pupil with care, learning their names and chatting to them about their interests,” Rob explains.

“I’ve never seen them so engaged – it was incredible. Andrew showed that you don’t have to have the best grades or a university degree to make a success of yourself – just self-belief, a good work ethic and a great idea.

“One boy in particular, Gareth*, couldn’t stop talking about his business idea to start a surfboard rental business on a local beach. Gareth finds reading and writing difficult, so it was special to see him writing down his ideas in detail. He’s only 13 but I could see that Andrew lit a spark in him.”

Learning more than the basics of business

Over two days, Andrew worked with groups at Canolfan Aeron and Canolfan yr Eos.

“In the workshop we covered the ‘what, where, why’ basics of business planning and I encouraged the kids to tell me about what they like to do, to help them see the skills they already have. The kids were so focused and inquisitive – they came up with great ideas,” says Andrew.

“I told them, ‘If anyone’s going to succeed it’s you – because you’ve already been through so much’. Every has challenges, everyone fails, but you can pick yourself up and try again like I have.

“One boy, Jack*, was very quiet and withdrawn. I mentioned that he looks like Ed Sheeran and asked if he liked to sing or dance. Jack just shrugged but I kept trying to engage him over the two days.

“As I was leaving, Jack ran after me and did a little song and dance – his caseworker was shocked! She said he very rarely speaks, so I know I got through to him somehow.

“I left feeling so emotional – what an amazing place!”

It doesn’t end there…

Even though pupil Gareth is only 13, Big Ideas Wales is working with Canolfan Aeron to help him take his business idea forward. He’s spoken to a business advisor and is currently working on his business plan and hopes to attend Bootcamp to Business when he’s older.

After the success of Andrew’s visit, both Rob and Andrew are keen to arrange another session with the students.

“It was absolutely life-changing for me,” says Andrew. “I want everyone to know that these kids aren’t ‘bad’ – they have been let down by the system, but they have so much to offer. I believe they are all entrepreneurs in the making.”


*names have been changed to protect the students’ identities