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More cuts to the most vulnerable school pupils put forward

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Facilities for excluded pupils may be slashed

MORE cuts to services helping the most vulnerable school pupils are being proposed by West Berkshire Council in a drive to make savings of more than £1m.

New proposals have been put forward to cut by half a service that supports children who are expelled from school, and to close two pupil referral units for excluded children at Newbury and Thatcham.

As part of the cost-cutting proposals, the PRUs at Newbury’s Riverside Community Centre and Thatcham’s Moorside Community Centre have been earmarked for closure.

West Berkshire Council is also proposing to cut the number of places for secondary school children who are permanently excluded, from 60 to 36.

Explaining the decision, the council, which is responsible for arranging suitable provision for excluded pupils, blamed a lack of funding for the proposed cuts. It said: “Like many councils, we have to make difficult decisions about how we spend money. We can no longer afford to deliver alternative provision in the same way.

“We have explored how we could deliver education to vulnerable pupils differently. We are proposing to change the way we deliver alternative provision in West Berkshire.”

The proposals include allowing some excluded pupils to continue their education at the same mainstream schools from which they were excluded, and bringing the number of PRUs down from six to four.

The changes to the services, which affect pupils aged between five and 16, would save the council an estimated £1.1m. The council said it was also proposing to cut costs by amalgamating two other services – the alternative curriculum and the reintegration service, into a single entity to become the alternative education provision service.

The proposed savings are in addition to earlier cuts to support for pupil referral units already agreed by West Berkshire Council in a budget approved by a Schools Forum meeting in March.

At that meeting, top-up funding for PRUs was reduced to help balance the books and the PRU outreach service was scrapped.

At the time council officers warned that any reduction would make it more difficult to provide the same level of staffing.

Defending the cuts, the executive member for education, Dominic Boeck, said: “Our proposal is to extend the delivery of our current service. At a high level, we would like to prioritise our resources where we can make the biggest difference to vulnerable pupils and students.

“This could mean a reduction in the current number of council-provided alternative provision sites from six to four and working in partnership with schools and building on their strengths and assets in order to ensure that all alternative curriculum students in West Berkshire receive a full education option.”

The consultation is live until Monday, October 17, with representations accepted on the West Berkshire Council website.

A final decision will be made at a meeting of the executive committee on January 19 and, if approved, change would be implemented from September 2017.

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