County Council under fire for spending £135,000 per pupil on PRIVATE specialist education

John Warren, Principal at The Grove Academy
John Warren, Principal at The Grove Academy
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The County Council has come under fire for calling a Harrogate school too expensive after teachers highlighted that the authority has spent £135,000 per pupil on private specialist education.

The Grove Academy in Harrogate is a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) which acts as a safety net for permanently excluded students or young people who cannot be taught in mainstream school for other reasons.

Since September the academy has been fighting proposals by NYCC to cut its £1.2million funding by around 80 per cent, which could force the school to close.

The council is facing a £5.5million deficit in its educational high needs budget and says that with 25 commissioned full time equivalent students, The Grove costs £48,000 per student annually.

But The Grove has disputed the figure, stating that the school has in fact 41 students on its roll, 29 of which are there full time.

Stephen Wilkinson, Head of Maths at the Grove said: “The council’s costing is predicted on only half of our school roll - either because they have left these children out on purpose, or because they don’t know how many children we have at The Grove. The council is either disingenuous or incompetent.

“Education at the Grove is more costly than mainstream but is very much in line with maintained special schools. It is significantly less than private alternative or special provision.

“For example last year NYCC spent £54,000 per pupil for private SEN schooling and £135,000 per pupil for private residential provision.”

The council said it would welcome a discussion with the Grove Academy to establish how many of its 41 children are receiving full time education and to reach an agreement about the unit cost against the funding provided by the local authority.

But Principal of the Grove, John Warren, said it wasn’t as simple as that.

“The council are trying to act like we are full every day with a set number of kids.

“We still have costs whether they are full time or part time. There are some kids that need to be taught at home so if I send a member of staff out to them they might be out for the whole day even if that student is part time.

“There are other kids that need two teachers supervising them because of their behaviour. The council is trying to get us to operate like a business but we are not a business.”

Other teachers at the Grove added that the PRU had become a ‘de facto special school’ where permanently excluded students are abandoned because the mainstream schools won’t take them back and the special schools are full.

Forest Moor School is the only council-run special needs school in the Harrogate District, but has been rated by Ofsted as requiring improvements since 2013 and in the last financial year its deficit has doubled to -£967,790.

But the council claims there are plans afoot to create additional capacity at Forest Moor and to stabilise its budget.

Stuart Carlton, director of North Yorkshire’s children and young people’s service said: “We know that the pupil referral services in North Yorkshire are generously funded overall and we wish to bring the funding per place for permanently excluded young people into line with national rates and work collaboratively with all head teachers to create a sustainable model of alternative provision that is responsive to need.

He added: “All the evidence shows that the vast majority of children who are excluded from school are disadvantaged in terms of academic attainment and the future quality of their life.

“As part of this plan we also intend to provide additional and more local provision in special schools like Forest Moor in Harrogate and Mowbray in Bedale. We have also applied for a free special school in Selby where there is currently no provision.

“Unlike the pupil referral service, which offers small group teaching and more personalised learning than mainstream, special schools cater for children with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) who have a range of complex needs.

“Forest Moor currently has 55 full time equivalent students on roll with EHCPs and have a clear vision to create additional capacity and budget stability.”

Addressing the statement that NYCC spends upto £135,000 per pupil on private specialist education, Mr Carlton said: “While we always try to place children in education provision which is as local as possible some of their needs are so complex that sometimes we may need to use the independent non-maintained sector and some of this provision is expensive by its nature.

“However, the majority of children with EHCPs in North Yorkshire attend county special schools which are cost effective. For example a full time equivalent place for social emotional and mental health needs in a county special school costs on average £20,000.”