Scarborough councillor expresses his concern about plan to reduce school exclusion numbers

Eric Broadbent
Eric Broadbent

A Scarborough councillor has said he is concerned about the impact of a county council plan to reduce the number of exclusions from schools.

Labour Cllr Eric Broadbent, who represents Northstead ward on North Yorkshire County Council, was speaking after the authority’s Executive voted yesterday for a phased reduction in discretionary funding to the county’s seven Pupil Referral Units (PRU), including the one in Scarborough.

The changes will see the service continue to receive 50 per cent of current funding until September next year.

Pupil Referral Units cater for children who aren’t able to attend a mainstream school. Pupils are often referred there if they need greater care and support than their school can provide or if they have been excluded.

The authority is aiming to save around £2m from its high-needs budget, and says its changes will help to reduce the number of exclusions.

Cllr Eric Broadbent said it would leave Scarborough’s Pupil Referral Unit, based next to the former Yorkshire Coast College Westwood building, with a greatly-reduced service.

He said: “The changes concern me greatly.

“The Scarborough PRU currently has around 49 pupils on its books and following calculations it looks like that under the what the county is proposing that it would have the funding for around 24 pupils.

“The hope is these pupils will go back into education or an ‘alternative provision’ would be found.

“In theory, pupils are supposed to be at the PRU for six weeks before going back into a school but some of these children have complex emotional needs and it can take anywhere up to 12 months to get them to a place where they are ready to go back into mainstream education.

“I think what the county is trying to do is bring about a culture change in 12 months. It was four months until they decided to put the changes back to next year but, in my opinion, it can take four or five years to change a culture on this scale.

“At the end of the day it is about cutting budgets as the funding they are getting from the Government is nowhere near enough but I don’t think that targetting some of the most vulnerable people in our society is the way to go about saving money.”

The proposals will be voted at a full council meeting next month.

Speaking following yesterday’s meeting Cllr Patrick Mulligan (Con), North Yorkshire’s executive member for Education and Skills, said: “Our primary concern is to reduce school exclusions because evidence shows that children and young people who are permanently excluded suffer in terms of educational outcomes and life chances.

“So wherever possible we believe they should remain within mainstream education, in their local school with the right support and curriculum to meet their needs.

“Permanent exclusions have risen significantly, despite our investment in the pupil referral service of over £4.7m each year.

“The present system is not working and so we have agreed that schools, the county council and the pupil referral service work together to agree on a new model of provision which is more flexible to meet the needs of children and young people locally.”