Referral unit places could raise cash

NORTH Somerset’s pupil referral units could soon attract children from outside the district leading to a massive funding boost for the service.

The authority has three referral units in Weston and one in Nailsea to support pupils who are not reaching their potential in mainstream schools, as well as an Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) service in both towns.

Children are taught at pupil referral units (PRUs) for a number of reasons. The student may be very bright, but bored in mainstream schools, the pupil may be suffering from dyslexia or have problems with aggression.

Pupils are given much greater support by specialist staff with the aim of helping them back into mainstream schools or colleges.

Staff with the EOTAS service educate children who are in hospital or at home caring for a sick relative and cannot attend school.

North Somerset Council is currently considering selling places at the units to enable the authority to invest in the buildings, resources and staff.

Jeremy Blatchford, North Somerset’s executive member for children and young people’s services said: “Demand for these places is increasing. North Somerset is so good at providing the service that places at the centres could be sold to other authorities.

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“Due to the increase in demand we are going to have to invest to increase capacity, which means schools may have to pay for the places.

“Spaces are expensive as pupils have almost one to one treatment. There could be a tendency for schools to dump naughty children in PRUs to make their statistics more favourable, so this system would help to prevent that.”

PRUs currently help around 40-50 children each year and the units were rated either good or outstanding at their last Ofsted inspection.

Weston has the Larch Centre at Baytree School, Fairways at Westhaven School, SAIL in Oldmixon Crescent and the Oakhill unit is based in Nailsea.

The council is also proposing to close the Fairways unit as it is costly to maintain five units. SAIL and EOTAS vocational centre would be extended to cater for 50 students.

The EOTAS units could also be moved to one base and the use of online learning developed to supplement the service.

Mr Blatchford added: “The PRUs make a huge difference to children’s outcomes. They go in for all sorts of reasons and it really turns them around. Staff offer whatever is necessary to get the best out of each child. By selling services to other authorities we would have the money for a wider range of support staff and we would be able to afford more resources. I think it would be very positive.

“It will also give us the ability to build up capacity so that we don’t have to send children outside of North Somerset to get extra support.”

The council is currently investigating a number of different ways the service could be run and the matter will go before the council’s scrutiny panel once a report has been drawn up.