OFSTED has praised the new headteacher at a specialist school which caters for Thurrock’s troubled youngsters.

The Pupil Referral Unit - which is spread over two sites in South Ockendon - was judged to “require improvement” by the government watchdog when it visited in December.

The school looks after 85 children who have been expelled from the borough's mainstream secondary schools.

But new head Jan Culley appears to be turning things around. A tightening up of routines at the school was pinpointed by Ofsted as one reasons the school is improving.

There are also plans to transform the unit into an academy in April and return it to its original purpose of being a short term placement, rather than a long term answer for pupils excluded from mainstream schools.

In a letter, inspector Heather Yaxley said: “Senior leaders and the management committee are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement.

“In the short period since the full inspection many things have changed as a result of extensive discussions between staff and the management committee about how the vision for the unit’s future can be realised.

“Tighter routines are in place at the start of the day and appropriate behaviour is rewarded more consistently. This means that the day starts purposefully and promptly, there is a smoother start to lessons and there are clear expectations of students to behave well.”

One of the Unit’s sites - for primary school aged pupils - is at the Pheonix Centre in Corve Lane while the other, for secondary aged pupils, is in the Culver Centre in Daiglan Drive.

Council leader and education portfolio holder John Kent said: “There’s still work to be done, we all know that, but the unit is heading in the right direction backed by the strong leadership of the new head and the determination of the management committee to set high aspirations.”

He added: “What really grabbed my attention – and it was the same at both sites – is that there was a real sense of purpose and learning; a positive atmosphere that seemed to be everywhere.”