Thetford pupils could be “losing out”

Concerns have been raised about education provision for difficult pupils in and around Thetford following the introduction of a new system.

Until earlier this year the town had its own Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), on Elm Road, but under a shake-up of alternative education by Norfolk County Council this was closed.

In its place a new “short-stay” school, with four bases outside of Thetford, was opened which will cater for pupils struggling with main-stream education, although the county council says a “significant” amount of work will be done within schools. Town officials however say this is not good enough and will leave pupils “short changed.”

Dave Southwell, director of Zone for Learning, a Thetford-based training centre for out of school youngsters said some pupils were already forced to travel a long distance.

He said: “The PRUs also used to send staff into schools to keep them in main-stream education but there’s a hard-core element of youngsters who are not going to get their services because they’re not going to be in school.

“I think what will happen, and we’re seeing this already, is the county council will provide the transport for those who have been referred but they will have to go a long way out of their way. We have one young man from Watton who’s expressed an interest in coming to Zone for Learning and he has to come from Watton to King’s Lynn to Thetford because he has to come via Include.

“My concern is the logistics of it all. If a pupil isn’t going to be catered for by the short stay school there needs to be more provision. “With Thetford having plans for �6,000 new houses they’re stopping more provision for the town. We’ve lost the youth service and Connexions and I feel very strongly if they can take something from Thetford they will.”

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Earlier this year, national provider CfBT Include was awarded the contract to provide alternative education throughout the county.

A short-stay school has now been set up which has four bases, in Norwich, Gorleston, Coltishall and King’s Lynn.

Thetford town councillor for the Castle Ward, Corinne Fulford, believes, however, all Thetford pupils should be educated in and around the town. “In my experience these are kids who are, or have the potential to be, permanently excluded or have difficulties within the mainstream school system,” she said.

“I think it’s very short-sighted to expect these kids to do well in this way. If the provision was there before I don’t see how this can be enough.

“Twenty-five per cent of our population are under 16 and for some reason it’s not good enough for our kids to have provision in their own town. I think us and our children are being very short changed.”

Assistant director for Norfolk County Council Children’s Services, Lesley Whitney, said the restructure of the Pupil Referral Units would ensure a “consistent approach” to alternative education.

She added: “A significant amount of the work of the former PRUs and the new short-stay school is around preventing exclusion and supporting children with behavioural difficulties in mainstream school.

“All schools have been sent a brochure detailing what services and interventions are available from the short stay school. Thetford schools will be able to access these services along with all schools across the county.”