Harrogate school leaders throw support behind Grove Academy over closure fears

Grove staff and supporters at the start of their march on Wednesday.
Grove staff and supporters at the start of their march on Wednesday.

School leaders across Harrogate and Knaresborough have thrown their support behind the Grove Academy, after news broke last week that it faces closure by Christmas due to funding cuts.

Headteachers and other senior staff from around the district met with teachers and supporters from the Grove on Wednesday, as they undertook a 10-mile protest walk to raise awareness of their plight.

The march reaches the Rossett School

The march reaches the Rossett School

Unions claim the Grove, a Pupil Referral Unit which educates children with behavioural or learning difficulties, faces closure by Christmas due to changes in North Yorkshire County Council's high needs budget.

The changes will see funding cut from PRUs and redirected into mainstream schools in an effort to prevent exclusions in the first place.

The 10-mile walk on Wednesday saw Grove staff and supporters visit the six schools in Harrogate and Knaresborough that it serves.

Richard Sheriff, the executive head teacher at Harrogate Grammar School, said it was significant that head teachers and senior staff from across the district were coming out in support of the Grove.

Grove Academy supporters at Harrogate Grammar with executive head teacher Richard Sheriff.

Grove Academy supporters at Harrogate Grammar with executive head teacher Richard Sheriff.

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"It shows to you how serious the head teachers take the loss of a facility which is vital for the care and well-being of some of the most vulnerable children in our town," Mr Sheriff told the local democracy reporting service.

"All the head teachers at times need to use the Grove's facility...so losing that is a great loss to all of us and we're extremely worried.

"We know alone that we can't meet that need...some of these youngsters need very particular care and support that we can't provide in the mainstream setting that we've relied on the Grove for."

Alex Boyce, the head of English at the academy, said they were appealing to the council to grant the school sufficient funding to stay open until next summer.

"This would give Grove management a fighting chance of working out a new, sustainable arrangement directly with our supportive local schools. All we want is this chance," he said.

Harrogate school faces 'closure by Christmas' over funding cuts
The changes come as education budgets across the country face the squeeze of servicing growing numbers of high needs students, combined with Government austerity which they say has resulted in years of under-funding.

North Yorkshire alone faces a £5.5m overspend of its high needs budget from the last year.

The county's assistant director of inclusion for children and young people's service Jane Le Sage last week reiterated aimed to get the best results for local children by reducing exclusions in the first place.

“We remain committed to reducing the numbers of permanent exclusions across the county by ensuring schools have access to high quality, alternative provision for young people, who will benefit from a more personalised curriculum and higher levels of support," she said.

She said that while the council understood the decision to reduce PRU funding "has not been popular", the units had historically been "very generously funded", with pressures on the high needs block meaning they were "unable to continue to fund over and above the national average".

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporting Service