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Task force for pupil referral units to tackle youngsters who cannot attend mainstream schools

A task force is set to be established later this year to come up with measures to tackle a shortfall of places for youngsters who cannot attend mainstream schools.

Pupil referral units (PRUs) are schools which are designed to provide appropriate education for youngsters such as those who have been permanently excluded, those who have experienced severe bullying, those with special educational needs and pregnant or young mums.

Concerns were raised during Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday, February 13 that PRUs were at capacity, leaving youngsters who had been excluded but without a place to go vulnerable to being recruited into gangs.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (7234067)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (7234067)

Conservative cabinet member for education, Gordon Jones, said that for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) there had been a recognition that there were not enough places, which had prompted a cross-party panel to be established and resulted in a £45m plan to create 828 new places.

Now, the same is needed for PRU provision, he said, following a recommendation from that panel.

“There are pupils in PRUs who perhaps shouldn’t be there because there is not the correct provision in SEND.

“There are pupils in the PRUs who are there longer than PRUs are designed for.

“There is going to be a PDP [policy development panel] on PRU provision, that will start in September.”

PDPs feature councillors from across the county council’s political spectrum working with officers and experts to assess current provision and come up with measures to facilitate new places.

A PDP will likely come back with conclusions in late 2019 or early 2020.

Data released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that across Suffolk’s 14 PRUs there were 43 places available in total as of October 10, although these were across a variety of different key stage levels and included two-day, four-day, and boarding provision.

The 14 establishments have a combined total of 432 places.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “I am pleased that another key recommendation of the specialist education PDP, of which I was a part, is being actioned. All too often, the local authority is placing children in PRUs when it is inappropriate to do so, while other young people cannot get access to this provision even when they are in desperate need.

“When children as young as four have been forced to wait for a place, it is clear that the system is not working as it should. “Suffolk has one of the highest rates of primary school pupils sent to PRUs in the country, so PRUs should not be looked at in isolation when a more holistic approach is needed.

“Early intervention, effective outreach support and tackling the exclusion epidemic that exists in our county must be priorities for the Conservative administration if they are serious about delivering a positive change for children in our county.”