Service supporting vulnerable children closes amid tough climate for schools

The Locksley School, part of The Short Stay School for Norfolk. Picture: Steve Adams

The Locksley School, part of The Short Stay School for Norfolk. Picture: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Vulnerable children could be left without support after a service which helped schools with behaviour challenges was forced to close.

Engage Educational Services - the trading arm of the Engage Trust, which runs the Short Stay School for Norfolk for excluded children - has announced that its child support team will close at Easter.

Since 2013, its team have, working with external bodies, run paid-for programmes to support schools in a bid to make permanent exclusions a last resort.

But its chief executive Des Reynolds said a tough climate for schools had meant many were unable to fund subscriptions, leaving the business, which was based off Drayton High Road, unviable.

'Sadly it has become increasingly evident over the last 18 months that offering a service for vulnerable children on a market based system is very challenging,' he said.

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'In a context where schools budgets have faced unprecedented limitations, many school leaders have been unable to fund this support. This has now become so widespread that the service is no longer financially viable.'

He said the service - which received no council or governemnt funding - had run a financial loss, and was not able to continue.

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Mr Reynolds said: 'This is not a decision which has been taken lightly, but with the very real prospect of Norfolk schools having even less funding for children with additional needs in coming years, it has become evident that we can no longer support a loss making service.

'We have already made substantial cuts to staffing and redesigned the service more than once, but in reality schools can no longer afford to purchase the level of support many of their students require.'

He said it was of 'great regret' that two groups in particular would be affected by the decision.

'Firstly, the vulnerable children of Norfolk will have access to less support, and secondly our fantastic team of dedicated and skilled staff will be left without employment.'

Permanent exclusions have become an issue in Norfolk, with 266 pupils excluded in 2016/17 alone.

An agenda published ahead of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee meeting next week revealed that the number of exclusions in the autumn term was 119, compared to 134 in the same period of 2016.

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