ADCS: Excluded children plans must not fragment services

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned that government plans to improve education for children outside mainstream schooling should not fragment services or add bureaucracy.

In a white paper last week, children’s secretary Ed Balls said that the worst-performing pupil referral units, which are run by councils for excluded children, would be closed and replaced through competitive tendering and he invited the voluntary and private providers to bid.

It also promised performance data on pupils in alternative settings to schools, who also include young mothers and pregnant girls, and a requirement they should all have educational objectives and a minimum curriculum entitlement.

Mixed economy

ADCS president Maggie Atkinson welcomed the emphasis on improved outcomes for this group and said the association did “not oppose in principle a mixed economy of provision”.

But she pointed out that directors of children’s services were “statutorily responsible” for improving outcomes for all young people in their locality.

“Thus it is vitally important that alternative provision, whatever the provider, is accountable to the director and forms part of the continuum of children’s services,” she said.

Atkinson added that where a pupil referral unit was replaced by an alternative provider, councils would need “a layer of bureaucracy” to manage it.

Concerns over standards

Parental advisory body the Advisory Centre for Education expressed worries that the standard of education in alternative settings may not improve.

Chief executive Simon Hepburn said that the white paper should have required all alternative settings to teach excluded children the national curriculum in order to ensure their education was “balanced” and “relevant”.

The plans were welcomed by the National Association of Social Workers in Education. Spokesperson Stephen Mason said it was based on “sound principles” and raised expectations of what should be provided in alternative settings.

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