Headteachers clash with council over behaviour units plan

Norfolk's high school headteachers are demanding a county council rethink over plans to overhaul education provision for children with behavioural problems.

The EDP has seen a document written by the Norfolk Association of Secondary Headteachers (Nash), which criticises the possible change from five pupil referral units (PRUs) to three short-stay schools and one 'hard to place' centre.

The EDP has also seen a paper written by three current heads of PRUs in Norfolk, which calls for a rethink of the plans.

Meanwhile, with speculation mounting about which PRU would be axed, the council said it would be the one at Elm Road in Thetford.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said the council wanted to work more closely with schools to keep youngsters in mainstream education - using the four bases for short-stay 'cooling off' spells.

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She said the overhaul would 'deliver more support to children in schools' and 'lower rates of exclusion even further'.

But the document drawn up by Nash said the changes would:

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? Increase 'already unacceptable' transport times for children

? Harm vulnerable children and have an impact on families across Norfolk

? Cost the council more in transporting youngsters around the county

? Fail to take into account the expected increased demand for behaviour support.

It added: 'The simple question is why change something that is working well for short-term financial gain?'

Part of the proposal, which would save �213,000 per year, would be to have a single executive headteacher overseeing all four bases.

The paper drawn up by the PRU headteachers said: 'We are greatly concerned that the proposals put forward will reduce the capacity of children's services to respond to the inevitable growth in demand for PRU places, have a leadership system which is too distant and therefore less able to find solutions to those growing demands, and provide a less satisfactory response to schools' families' and pupils' needs than is currently in place.'

Nico Dobben, headteacher designate of the planned Thetford Free School, said: 'My feeling on this is strongly that vulnerable children in Thetford more than anybody else need to have provision on their doorstep.

'The lack of specialist provision in the town is one of the reasons I am in the process of setting up the free school.'

Mrs Thomas said the proposal was the result of two years of 'careful and thorough research'.

She said: 'We really believe it would improve on the education and support that currently exists for pupils who are excluded or are at risk of exclusion.

'We believe that working with schools to help prevent exclusion is in the best interests of the children concerned and provides the best value for money.

'We recognise that in some cases, exclusion will be a necessary step and under our proposal four pupil referral units would remain in operation, in Norwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Coltishall.

'The aim is to shift the focus of these units towards making them short-stay schools, allowing excluded pupils a cooling-off period and for assessments to take place to determine what the best solution would be for them, whether that is returning to their original school or taking a place in a different school.

'Specialist, long-term placements would still be available for those few pupils for whom returning to mainstream education is not deemed to be an option.'

Mrs Thomas added that there 'shouldn't be a shortfall of PRU places nor a widespread problem of pupils travelling further although a few may have to'.

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