Councillors unanimously approve 'devastating' cut to Harrogate school for vulnerable students

A Harrogate school which acts as a 'safety net' for some of the most vulnerable young people in education has been told the majority of its funding will be taken away before the end of the year.

Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 3:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 3:29 pm
Teachers at The Grove Academy handed a petition with 5,500 signatures to Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire's Executive Member for Education.

Parents, former pupils, and staff at Harrogate's Grove Academy have been fighting for months, to see North Yorkshire County Council abandon plans to cut the school's budget by more than 80 per cent.

The Academy, which is one of several Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) in North Yorkshire, is a school for permanently excluded young people and other students who cannot be taught in mainstream education.

But Executive Members of the Council have today (January 15) voted unanimously to impose the cut, which will remove funding from the PRUs and give a fraction of it back to mainstream school headteachers, as part of a new scheme starting in April.

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Alex Boyce, teacher at The Grove and leader of Save the Pupil Referral Service campaign said: "Today the council have chosen to prioritise their pennies over our pupils.

"They have ignored the 5,500 signatories on our petition and approved the proposed cut - this will not trim the fat from the budget of the pupil referral service, it will rip the heart out of it.

"As we have stated to full council, to the scrutiny committee and now to the Executive, there simply will not be enough provision in place for our most vulnerable children.

"On this timescale the council's plans rely upon a leap of faith - a naive hope that alternative education providers will spring up as soon as April."

Councillor Patrick Mulligan, Executive Member for Education, said the council faced a shortfall of more than £5 million and claimed that something had to change to curb rising numbers of permanent exclusions in North Yorkshire.

By reallocating the money from Pupil Referral Units such as the Grove Academy back into mainstream schools, the council hopes the number of exclusions will come down.

But mainstream headteachers have supported the calls by The Grove Academy, stating that the proposals will see the number of permanent exclusion rise, not fall.

Despite the devastating blow today, Mr Boyce said the fight was not over, and the campaign would turn its attention to the full council vote on the budget in February.

Mr Boyce said: "This vote will decide the matter and set the proposal in stone.

"If the vote goes against us then the first cut to the PRS will be in April and it will be deep.

"We will be hosting a meeting in Harrogate for all councillors on January 23. We would encourage members of the public to write to their local councillor to ensure they attend so they can make an informed vote next month.

"All Labour and Lib Dem councillors are supporting our motion for at least a year's stay of execution but we desperately need more Conservative councillors and Independents to engage with us. Each councillor has a vote and each vote is vital."