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Schools for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils ‘forced to cut services and let teachers go’

Written by on 04/03/2021

Schools that teach vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils say they are being forced to cut services and make teachers redundant because of a severe drop in funding during the pandemic.

Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) say they are concerned that, as schools return in England, they will struggle to cope with the expected increase in demand.

Funding streams have fallen because of a drop in referrals from mainstream schools – which have been closed during the lockdowns of the last year.

Youth Challenge Secondary in Bolton
Image: Bolton Impact Trust runs five academies

Bolton Impact Trust, which runs five academies, says it has 70 fewer pupils than they had expected this year – giving a financial loss of more than £1m.

To balance the books, the trust is having to cut back on some services and make more than 20 staff redundant.

What’s more, executive principal Paul Hodgkinson says the trust believes demand will start to increase when schools return on 8 March.

“Of course we will endeavour to support all of the children that are referred to us but I’m doing it on a threadbare staffing at the moment,” he said.

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Mr Hodgkinson – and other PRU leaders – are now calling for a review of the per-pupil element of the funding formula.

He said: “To rely on children’s bad luck or for children to get into crisis in order for us to be paid is something that really needs visiting.”

Sarah Dove from PRUsAP, the association for the sector, says other schools are in similar situations.

“It is vital that the government continues to work… to understand the impact the pandemic is having on funding and to ensure consistency and parity of funding,” she said.

Coden Leonard
Image: Coden Leonard says he would have struggled to take classes online

Pupil Referral Units have been open throughout the pandemic, prioritising those who they feel would be less able to learn from home.

Coden Leonard, 16, who attended four mainstream schools before coming to the Bolton Impact Trust – says he would have struggled to take classes online.

“I wouldn’t have had the space to concentrate because I have two little sisters and my mum and my nan, and we have two dogs as well. It’s just hectic in my house so you can’t concentrate one bit,” he said.

The government has announced an increased level of catch-up funding for Pupil Referral Units – as well as extra money to help students into further education or employment.

But the Conservative chair of the education committee, Robert Halfon, says more focus should be put on disadvantaged pupils.

“We need to make sure that the catch-up programme announced by the government… the extra tuition is focused on disadvantaged pupils and disadvantaged schools, to make sure that those who have suffered the most have the best chance to get back on that education ladder of opportunity,” said Mr Halfon.

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The Department for Education said it was “working closely… to monitor demand for funding and places” in PRUs.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect AP (alternative provision) settings and those local authorities and schools that use their services to work closely together, to assess the need and demand and to make sure local capacity is maintained where both places and expertise will be needed for the long term.

“Our review of the high needs funding formula will look at keeping the funding system up to date in a way that is fair and allocates funding where it is needed most.”

 Sky News

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