THE rising number of pupils being expelled from school in Monmouthshire means a new base for them is needed.
The county council’s Pupil Referral Unit could move to the site of a former special school at a cost of £1.2 million to ensure education can be provided in person, with youngsters kicked out of school currently having to learn online instead.
The unit, which teaches pupils who don’t have a school place in Monmouthshire as they’ve been expelled – or permanently excluded from school – is currently split across three sites at Hanbury House in Chepstow and the Old Library in Abergavenny, while Caerwent Village Hall has been used as a temporary site since Easter this year, but all have reached capacity.
Under plans, which the full council will be asked to approve this week, it is planned to relocate the service from Hanbury House in the centre of Chepstow to staff houses on the former Mounton House School site in nearby Pwllmeyric.
Pupils currently being taught at Caerwent Village Hall would also attend at Pwllmeyric, which would be a permanent and dedicated Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for the south of Monmouthshire, while plans are also being drawn up to establish a more permanent, dedicated site in the north of the county, which will be subject to a further report to councillors.
Dr Morwenna Wagstaff, head of the council’s Pupil Referral Service (PRS), which has responsibility for all pupils unable to attend school for a variety of reasons, has stated in a report for the council two new bases will lead to improvements.
She stated: “This will put the PRS in a far more stable position to meet the increasing demands of the vulnerable population of pupils it serves.”
According to the report in September this year there were 19 pupils in the referral unit and there are now 28 on its roll, and most have been permanently excluded.
Dr Wagstaff said: “This is due to an exceptionally high number of permanent exclusions from within Monmouthshire County Council and of Monmouthshire council pupils attending schools in neighbouring counties, since the start of term.
“Subsequently the three PRU sites are at capacity and as such pupils coming onto roll now are being offered an online learning package until suitable alternatives can be arranged.”
Mounton House School is also described as a better and more suitable location than the first-floor former office building in the centre of Chepstow it has been based at since relocating from from Boverton House in 2014.
According to the report: “The proposed accommodation will provide dedicated teaching and learning spaces for pupils along with specialist art, science, and life skills areas. There will be areas for outside learning and therapeutic support and intervention. Pupils will be taught in a safe and secure environment.”
Staff also have to call the police if pupils leave without permission when distressed but it’s thought with larger grounds they will be able to monitor them at a distance. It’s also hoped greater use of the grounds could be made to support outdoor activities, and learning, including a partnership with the council’s leisure service and to the benefit of pupils unable to attend school for health reasons.
The referral service also supports pupils judged too ill to currently attend school, some with additional learning needs, and it also provides support for pupils at risk of expulsion in three of Momouthshire’s four secondary schools.
Staff working across the service will be able to work together, and support each other, if they have a permanent base.
Refurbishment of the former Mounton School staff houses is put at £1.2 million, and £500,000 is available from the council’s Education Capital Maintenance Grant. If the remaining £700,000 cannot be found from other capital grants for education it is planned to borrow the cash, which will be repaid over 30 years at a cost of £47,591 a year from the Pupil Referral Service budget.