Swansea education service under review due to violence at pupil referral unit
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
An overhaul of the way children who are not in mainstream school are educated looks likely in Swansea, partly because efforts to tackle violence and aggression at a new pupil referral unit have failed.
Swansea Council’s cabinet has approved a consultation with relevant staff and organisations about reorganising the education otherwise than at school (EOTAS) service.
The service was overhauled seven years ago and led to the building of the £10 million Maes Derw pupil referral unit, Cockett. The unit is for young people with severe social emotional behavioural difficulties, with mainstream schools looking after those with less pronounced issues.
A report before cabinet said it was not possible for a referral unit like Maes Derw to meet learners’ needs at a time of increasing mental health issues among young people, rising school exclusions, and changes in how young people with additional learning needs need to be supported.
It said there had been significant challenges at Maes Derw, which has 158 places and a £3.5 million annual budget – working out at £22,500 per place. Attendance rates and reintegration rates into mainstream education were low, it said, while exclusion rates were high.
The report listed a series of measures the council had put in place to improve Eotas provision, including a specialist service at Birchgrove Comprehensive School, Birchgrove, and another at Clwyd Primary School, Penlan.
But it added: “Despite all of these interventions, new provision and investment the pupil referral unit is still reporting regular incidents of violence and aggression placing staff and learners at risk.”
All potential solutions, it said, had not resolved the issues as yet. The council proposes to use Maes Derw more flexibly to host a vulnerable learner service – the service supports a growing number of home-tutored children – while also introducing other changes. The overall aim is to better meet the needs of young people with severe social emotional behavioural difficulties.
If the overhaul does take place following the consultation a few posts at Maes Derw may be lost although some vacant ones are currently filled by agency staff.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Cllr Robert Smith, who has the education portfolio, said the previous overhaul had led to significant changes in the way the EOTAS and the pupil referral unit system operated.
“This report is based on the experience of operating that model over the last seven years and reflects the changing needs within our society, the changing needs among our children and young people in Swansea, and seeks to enable us to respond more effectively by changing, not the buildings on this occasion, but the way Maes Derw operates and changing the way the service operates,” he said.
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