Cuts jeopardise leading alternative provision

The only “outstanding” pupil referral unit in North Yorkshire could close by Christmas, leading to fears students won’t have anywhere to go as other alternative provision settings are stretched to capacity.

The Grove Academy in Harrogate is one of five alternative provision providers in North Yorkshire. It has 34 pupils on roll.

Delta Academies Trust, which took it over in 2013, said North Yorkshire County Council has slashed its funding by about 65 per cent.

The council is instead moving to a “more inclusive mainstream school culture”, designed to reduce the numbers of children and young people excluded from school.

But the council admitted it was under strain, projecting financial pressures of £5.5 million. It called for additional help from the government.

Alex Boyce, who works at The Grove, said he believed the school would close at Christmas unless there was a “dramatic change”.

“After endless meetings, and multiple delays, we still don’t have clarity on what the council’s plan is for the existing pupils in the PRU or excluded pupils in the future. We’re having to piece things together.

“The only thing we know for certain is that the cuts are real and they are having a devastating effect. Parents and students do not know what the future is and staff are already looking at employment elsewhere. And when you lose the staff, you lose the school.”

The council said that any decision about the future of the school was a matter for Delta.

But Delta said “given the magnitude” of reductions in funding, “it is difficult to see how the provision in its current form could continue”.

At a council meeting earlier this year, several headteachers warned that the proposed changes to the high-needs budget would leave some children with nowhere to go, resulting in higher levels of exclusion.

Boyce added: “Cutting an outstanding PRU to the point of closure simply makes no sense when there are so few alternative providers in place.”

The other AP providers in North Yorkshire are rated “good”. Two have already exceeded capacity, according to government statistics.

The council said it would “continue to meet the needs of permanently excluded children and young people in all parts of the county”.

A Schools Week investigation found councils were sending nearly double the number of vulnerable pupils to private AP settings – some of which were not inspected by Ofsted or registered with the government.

North Yorkshire County Council spent £30,380 on private AP between in 2018-19, compared with £5,700 the previous year.

 

This story was corrected on June 12 2019 to reflect the fact the school has 34 pupils on roll, not 19, as reported initially based on official government data.