A campaign to save a Harrogate specialist school from ‘forced closure’ has been supported by the town’s MP who said he was very concerned by the proposals.
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Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough is set to meet with North Yorkshire education chiefs over proposals to cut the main element of funding from the Grove Academy’s budget.
The academy on Grove Road, Harrogate, is one of six specialist schools in the county’s pupil referral service (PRS) which takes students who have been permanently excluded or cannot be taught in mainstream schools.
Over the last four months, the Grove has led a campaign against the proposals by North Yorkshire County Council, which hopes to reduce the number of permanent exclusions by using the money to fund a new scheme.
But now the local MP has waded into the debate, expressing strong concerns over the proposals and praising the work of the Grove Academy.
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Mr Jones said: “I am very concerned about the proposed reduction in funding for the PRS in North Yorkshire and particularly for The Grove Academy in Harrogate.
“Many people know that the Grove Academy does a fantastic job and we need it to continue to be able to do that work especially with excluded children.
“The increasing number of exclusions is a concern because this, coupled with fewer pupils returning to mainstream education, adds to the costs of the service.”
Mr Jones added that he would be meeting with Stuart Carlton, the Council’s corporate director for children and young people’s service to discuss the proposals on Friday.
“I would like them to reassure me, teachers and parents that they have examined long-term solutions that tackle exclusions, returning pupils to mainstream education and funding.
“If they cannot offer that reassurance I would suggest that looking for those solutions will take time and this will need to be done in partnership with the PRUs.”
Mr Carlton said he welcomed the meeting with Mr Jones.
He said: “We have a robust strategic plan for children and young people with special educational needs with initiatives to promote effective early intervention; more specialist targeted and long-term provision in mainstream schools; more places in special schools; a flexible system of teaching and learning and continuation of support through to adulthood. We recognise the important role of the PRS, and the high quality of our PRS services is not in dispute.
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“But we need to put the focus back on inclusion rather than exclusion and the positive impact that has on the lives of our young people.
“All the evidence shows that the vast majority of children who are excluded from school are disadvantaged in terms of academic attainment and the future quality of their life.
For that reason we will transfer some of the PRS discretionary funding into the hands of school leaders to make local decisions to help children and young people to remain in mainstream education.
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“Permanent exclusions have risen significantly, despite our investment in the PRS of over £4.7m each year.
“The present system is not working and so we have agreed that schools, the Council and the PRS will all work together to agree a new model of provision.