Pupils excluded from Calderdale schools face challenges in system revamp

Councillor Megan Swift (Lab, Town),Cabinet member for Children and Young Peoples Services
Councillor Megan Swift (Lab, Town),Cabinet member for Children and Young Peoples Services

Provision for children who have been excluded from Calderdale’s schools is set to change, but councillors have requested more clarity about the new arrangements.

Members of Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Board were considering a report presented on provision for primary (Key Stage 2) and secondary school children who have been excluded from their schools.

At the moment this is provided by the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), which has sites at Whitely Phoenix Centre at Illingworth, Halifax, for 11-16 year olds and the Stepping Stones provision at Whitehill Academy’s complex for Key Stage 2 pupils aged seven to 11, also Halifax – and they are there if they have been permanently excluded or to prevent a permanent exclusion from their “mainstream” home school.

The PRU service is rated by Ofsted as “good”.

The local authority commissions 80 places from the PRU and provides a “top up” fund for any places over that number.

But the PRU is in the process of transferring to the Impact Multi Academy Trust (MAT), likely early next year.

On its conversion it will be termed an Alternative Provision Academy (AP), with the trust “lead school” being Halifax Academy, led by Mick Kay, who is also chair of the Calderdale Association of Secondary Head Teachers.

Fairly new, alongside the PRU the MAT has Castle Hall Academy, Kirklees, within it and Warley Road Primary School, Halifax, in the process of joining.

The PRU focuses on keeping children on roll for long periods of time, often through a key stage of education, rather than focusing on providing them with support and a planned reintegration into mainstream education. The new arrangement means to change that.

Councillors heard that the funding which comes from the 80 places it commissions was the PRU’s major source of funding – without it the PRU would not be viable, placing the MAT at significant financial risk.

It was imperative the PRU keeps providing those places, they heard.

Accordingly the PRU has a key role to play in the new partnership between it, local authority and the MAT, housing a great deal of experience all schools require to deliver strategies which improve behaviour.

Councillors posed a range of questions about the changes, in particular about financing, the outcomes for pupils and who would ultimately have control in the new set up.

Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town), who is Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, said she was going to take the document back for more scrutiny as members had posed a lot of questions which needed answering.

She also urged board members who wanted to raise issues with officers about the new arrangements to ensure their questions were very clear in terms of what they wanted to know.