Council defends pupil referral service cuts despite warnings

Councillor Janet Sanderson.

Plans to change the way provision for pupils at risk of school exclusion is funded have been defended, despite warnings the move will ramp up costs rather than create savings.

As North Yorkshire County Council’s executive considered proposals for next year’s budget, members faced further pressure from campaigners to use its reserves to continue funding its pupil referral service to allow time to build infrastructure to carry out early interventions in mainstream schools.

The meeting heard claims that the council was sitting on vast sums of unallocated reserves, but was refusing to use a small proportion of the money to avert an impending crisis surrounding pupils with high needs.

A question to the executive from Karen Carberry, of the National Education Union, stated : “Failure to listen to 60 per cent of respondents to the consultation, the campaign groups, warnings from professionals and the local authority’s own commissioned advice will, without doubt, bring much greater costs than it will savings.

“We have seen a concerning rise in permanent exclusions, but far more concerning and potentially embarrassing for North Yorkshire will be its positioning in the league tables detailing the number of ‘at risk’ children who will be missing from education this time next year.”

Executive members said “far from abandoning vulnerable young people that find themselves at risk of being excluded”, the authority was investing £10m in services for those with high needs.

Executive member for finance, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said: “This is not just about money. It is very easy for any who is providing a service or even service users to say use reserves. That’s the easy way out.

“The problem is when you look at our budget report for the end of 2022 we will not have the reserves to dip into. We are still facing a £14m black hole. It would be a fool’s paradise to constantly look at reserves.”

Councillor Janet Sanderson, executive member for children’s services, said the North Yorkshire Schools Forum last week heard “overwhelming support” for the council’s approach to the Pupil Referral Service from headteachers.

She said: “In fact, one even went as far as saying we should have been doing this sooner. Other members also agreed with him, saying it was the right thing to do to keep children from being permanently excluded from schools.”

The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said the Children’s Minister had also supported the authority’s approach, stating that Ofsted was to start using the number of exclusions as a measure of a school’s performance.

The Pupil Referral Services changes will be considered by a full meeting of the council next month.