Call for rethink as youngsters face '˜pressure cooker' schools

Troubled youngsters are facing a 'pressure cooker' of mounting tension, a campaigning headteacher has warned, amid rising exclusions and fears over a relentless funding squeeze nationwide.

The Grove in Harrogate

John Warren, the headteacher of The Grove Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Harrogate, is one of five across North Yorkshire facing major funding changes under a consultation to rework the service and save £1.5m.

North Yorkshire County Council, in a drive to reduce exclusions, is looking at reallocating some funding from such specialist units, so that mainstreams schools can focus on better alternative provision.

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But The Grove has seen a four-fold rise in the number of such children it supports, stresses Mr Warren, at a time when it has been forced to halve resources.

Radical changes are needed within approaches to education and funding nationwide, he argues, in the wake of a “crisis” after years of austerity.

A greater recognition is needed, he adds, of the support youngsters with complex needs must be given.

“We can’t keep cutting, and then expect schools to solve all social ills,” he warns. “There’s a need, nationally, to ask what education is for – to define by achievements or produce successful human beings.”

The Grove, with 36 pupils, is one of a number facing changes which would result in a 66 per cent funding drop, with a final decision to be made by NYCC in January. The proposals are aimed at tackling a stark rise in exclusions – with NYCC adding that it would be pushing for change even if the authority didn’t need to save money.

Schools should be inclusive places, it argues, and it wants to shift the focus of funding from pupil referral units to local schools which would enable them to reduce the number of children facing exclusion.

Rather than putting extra pressure on mainstream schooling to reduce exclusions, Mr Warren argues, there should be a rethink of a national system which has created such a storm.

Even in affluent Harrogate, he added, there are children who rely on foodbanks, who have had belongings repossessed, and who have witnessed a “revolution” in mounting mental health pressures resulting from social media.

“We’ve got an affluent town, once named the happiest place to live,” he said.

“But we’ve got significant pockets of poverty.

“From the poorest pupils, to the most affluent, there’s a lot of pressure out there.

“It’s a perfect storm. This is a national crisis, that has been years in the making.”

THE Department for Education stressed the Government is committed to ensuring all children achieve their full potential at school.

A spokesman added: “We recognise local authorities are facing cost pressures on high needs. We are looking into the drivers of these pressures, and how we can support authorities. This year, North Yorkshire County Council received £47.7m in high needs funding, this includes for their alternative provision.”