As the Scrutiny Committee discussed setting up a Task Group to investigate how the Pupil Premium, ear-marked funds for disadvantaged children, are used in Brent schools last night, they were leafleted by staff who care passionately for an arguably even more disadvantaged group who are about to be shipped out of the borough.
The Primary Pupil Referral Unit currently housed at Ashley Gardens is for children excluded from mainstream school. The classrooms were previously used as temporary accommodation for the primary unit of Preston Manor All-through School.
The Primary Unit came about after the Key Stage 2 (7-11 year olds) PRU in Stonebridge was closed down at the end of Spring Term 2014 as no longer necessary. Within weeks, there were already 6 excluded children at Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds) and Key Stage 2 in need of education. The Ashley Gardens facility was set up for them and high quality, experienced staff were recruited on the understanding that the unit would continue through the current academic year.
Brent's Primary EBD(Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties) school, Vernon House, closed some time ago and a new school opened in its place for chidlren on the autistic spectrum.
The authority has said that the classrooms are needed for children without a school place, despite Preston Park Primary having expanded, the new primary school at Preston Manor and a four form entry primary school being built at Wembley High.
Most of the Ashley Gardens children will be placed at the Family School London, in Kings Cross. This is a free school being opened by the Anna Freud Centre, with home to school transport provided for each child.
On Thursday of last week Ashley Gardens staff were told that the Unit would close by the end of this month.
Staff have major concerns about the closure decision and the way it is being implemented. This is what they said:
1. The time scale for closure is extremely rushed and risks causing unnecessary distress to children and their families.The Ashley Gardens staff make a strong and professional case which clearly has the interests of vulnerable chidlren at its heart.
These are amongst the most vulnerable and emotionally challenged children within our education system. Three weeks does not give us proper time to prepare them for this major change. we have an excellent team who have worked very hard to build up relationships of trust with the children and their families and the children are now settled and beginning to thrive in the unit.
We are concerned that this hasty decision, driven it seems more by the borough's need for our accommodation than by the needs of the children, will cause unnecessary emotional trauma to children who have already had more than their fair share.
2. There has been no consultation on this decision with the staff of the unit, including the Teacher-In-Charge, nor more senior staff within the Inclusion Service, and no individual case-by-case review to assess whether the provision at the Anna Freud Family School is appropriate for all the children who will be placed there.
3. We understand the longer term policy is to provide support for chidlren at risk of exclusion with the Brent School's Partnership, with the aim of preventing exclusions. This provision is still not in place. Where will any excluded chidlren be taught and supported in the meantime? This is exactly the situation that led to the formation of the unit at Ashley Gardens.
4. What about children who are excluded in spite of all the best efforts of the new provision? The Family School has only 4 places available this year in each key stage, and 4 more available next year and demand could come from anywhere across London.
Brent Council's commitment to social inclusion means that there should be proper consultation with teachers, parents and professional agencies in such a situation, and at the very least a thorough Equalities Impact Assessment should be carried out.
None of this has happened and until it does, and the resulting report has been discussed and adopted by Cabinet, the closure should be suspended.
I would add a further concern about children being bussed out of the borough. They are already excluded from mainstream schools and will be further excluded by being educated far away from their home community.