Returning pupils to mainstream education, urgently improving rates of attendance and reducing persistent absences will remain priorities for the pupil referral unit serving Calderdale.
How the unit’s conversion to an academy affected the service and what controls the council had over it were debated by Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Services Scrutiny Board.
Calderdale’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) has been converted to an Alternative Provision (AP) Academy, which meant a closer link between the local authority’s commissioning, educational and inclusion teams and the borough’s Multi-Academy Trust PRU has been formed.
Board members were told the return of pupils to mainstream education remained a key priority with an urgent need to improve rates of attendance at the unit.
Continuing to reduce rates of persistent absence by some pupils is also a priority, alongside improving their attainment and progress in edcuation by the time they finished Key Stage 4.
The report to the board said overall attendance at the unit is below national average but persistent absence is less of a problem than nationally and regionally.
Calderdale commissions 80 places from the academy, which will now be known as the Whitley Alternative Provision (AP Academy, members heard, at a cost of around £10,000 per year per place.
Assistant Director for Education and Improvement, Mark Randall, said the new commissioned arrangements brought more scrutiny to the process.
Coun Amanda Parsons-Hulse (Lib Dem, Warley) asked what kind of interventions were being offered to young people. Mr Randall said there was a significant amount of funding per place resulting in much smaller class sizes and more of a mentor approach from staff.
Coun Howard Blagbrough (Con, Brighouse) asked what was being done to improve attendance rates of pupils referred to the unit and was told a range of strategies were being put in place to acheieve this.
In terms of influencing how the unit operated Board chair Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said the only sanction the board had over the unit would be to scrap the contract but he doubted that would ever happen.
Mr Randall said the council could challenge about aspects of performance, and where academies are concerned can have meetings with the schools commissioner.
Because the service was commissioned the agreement would give the board more information about the unit’s workings although because it was an academy the method of challenging performance would change.
Attendance procedures for affected pupils should also be more rigorous.
With figures showing only a 60 per cent attendance rate at the unit over the last two years, the aim should be to get that up to 90 per cent, said Coun Raistrick.
Mr Randall said the PRU should do everything in its remit to ensure attendance.