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'Life-changing' alternative education improvements on the way across Suffolk

A series of improvements are set to be made to Suffolk’s ‘alternative education’ provision, which councillors say will be “life-changing” for families.

A dedicated cross-party task force launched last year has been studying the county’s PRUs (pupil referral units) and what provision is in place for pupils that cannot attend mainstream schools, such as those who have been excluded or those with additional education needs.

The study found the system was fragmented and there was a lack of consistency across the county for those youngsters, with a report published for Tuesday’s Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting recommending a tightened structure.

Mary Evans (43083750)
Mary Evans (43083750)

Among those new measures, which are already starting to be implemented, are a new commissioning board to act as an advisory body, a clarified pathway for provision, more stringent assessment of the use of part-time timetables and the encouragement of a culture change to eradicate the stigma around PRUs.

Conservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans said: “The fundamental aim is to ensure our children and young people attend a provision that is appropriate to their needs, and do so in a timely manner.

“We must ensure the changes we make now are shaped around the young people’s needs and focus on empowering them to make the most of their potential.

“The risk of not taking action is a risk to the prospects of Suffolk’s children and young people.”

One problem found was children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) ending up in PRUs because of a lack of suitable places, however the council’s £45million programme to create new SEND places is addressing that.

It also aims to overhaul the negative perception that PRUs are only for disruptive children, and instead consider that many youngsters will have faced additional challenges and barriers in their childhood.

Conservative councillor Chris Chambers, who chaired the taskforce, said there was a “huge disconnect between the mainstream schools, local authority and alternative providers” which would be tackled through the new commissioning board as it would have input from all three.

He added that putting pupils on part-time timetables was a measure used far too often and was “not necessarily in the best interests of the child”.

Cabinet on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to the new measures.

Councillor Jack Abbott, the opposition labour group’s education spokesman and taskforce member, welcomed the action.

He said: “This new policy, along with the delivery of 800 new specialist school places, is one of the most significant pieces of work to come from Suffolk County Council over the past few years.

“We are already seeing hundreds of new places being delivered and I am confident that these new initiatives will be quickly implemented too.

“I was pleased to help develop both proposals and it shows the value of cross-party working with real input from families and educators.

“You cannot overstate the life-changing difference these plans will make.

“For too long children and young families have been placed in inappropriate settings and had their life chances diminished. This changes now.

“These plans will give children the care and flexibility they need and will support the educational settings who work so hard in educating them.

“Of course, there is still a lot of work ahead of us, but this is another important step forward in delivering for children and young people in Suffolk.”

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here. https://www.suffolknews.co.uk/news/education/