Children as young as four waiting for place at alternative schools

Labour's education spokesman for Suffolk, Jack Abbott. Picture: PAGEPIX

Labour's education spokesman for Suffolk, Jack Abbott. Picture: PAGEPIX - Credit: Archant

Children in Suffolk as young as four are waiting for a place at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) – the alternative schools provided for those who cannot be in mainstream education.

Approximately 46 children aged between four and 16 are currently waiting for a place at a PRU – 60% of whom are below primary school age – according to figures obtained by the Labour Group at Suffolk County Council.

Around 37 of those waiting for referral were male.

PRUs cater for children who have been permanently excluded from mainstream schools for disruptive behaviour or have experienced severe bullying, among other reasons.

Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesman at Suffolk County Council, said he was ‘stunned’ by the findings and accused the Conservative-led Suffolk County Council of failing its duty to provide children with the best education possible.

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He said: “The fact that we have so many children waiting for PRUs begs the questions; are all the children in PRUs in the right setting? Are PRUs being given the right resources to turn around children who need their help? Do we have enough in-school support?

“In short, the answer to all these questions is no.

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“We need Suffolk County Council to act quickly and decisively to start tackling this crisis.”

Suffolk had the fourth highest level of primary school pupils sent to PRUs in the country between 2013 and 2017, according to figures obtained by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said in response: “We know that we have had pupils attending PRUs that would be better placed in another provision.

“We have already improved the situation by opening a new Social Emotional Mental Health (SEMH) special school in Lowestoft for 52 children.

“Over Easter it was announced we have secured a new specialist school for Ipswich offering 60 places for children with complex SEMH needs from September 2019.”

The findings come after Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the of the education select committee, called for a “bill of rights” in February that would provide protection for pupils when schools may have wrongly excluded them.

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