Anger over concerns that Harrogate's 'most vulnerable' children could be lost in the system

Former students of Harrogate's Grove Academy make their protest.
Former students of Harrogate's Grove Academy make their protest.

Parents and former students have voiced their concerns that North Yorkshire’s “most vulnerable children” may be lost to the education system, during an emotional meeting about proposed changes to the county’s High Needs Budget.

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Parents and school and union representatives met with North Yorkshire County Council officials at a consultation meeting at Harrogate’s Cedar Court on Wednesday (November 7).

Changes to the High Needs Budget are centred around a three-pronged approach proposed by NYCC to claw back a £5.5m overspend due to Government under-funding.

For parents, students and education providers there are fears the proposals would lead to drastic cuts in school curriculums, as well as a loss of places at Pupil Referral Units (PRU) around the county.

PRUs help students who have been or are facing permanent exclusion from a mainstream school, as well as accepting pupils who cannot be taught in a regular setting due to complex behavioural and mental health problems.

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One former student of Harrogate PRU Grove Academy addressed the meeting, saying the school had gotten her “through the hardest times of my life”.

“Without them I’d be in jail…what do (cuts) mean for pupils like me who physically can’t sit in (class)rooms with 30 other people?”

“What are pupils like me going to do without services like them?”

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North Yorkshire County Council has a £44.8m budget to spend on special education provisions.

NYCC’s assistant director for inclusion Jane le Sage said the figure was based on historic trends of traditionally low numbers of students on a Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP) in the County.

However, between January 2016 and January 2018 there has been an increase of 1014 children requiring special educational needs support.

The trend has left the county council effectively having to do more with less.

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Ms le Sage told the meeting that carrying the £5.5m overspend would “break” the council. Part of the authorities on-going strategy is to lobby Government for an increase in funding in the sector.

The Harrogate meeting is the last before public consultation ends on November 11.

Once consultation is closed, responses will go towards a report to be considered by NYCC executive members with responsibility for children and young people’s services.

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