Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Taking the axe to a child's future

Focus College is a small, very specialist pupil referral unit in Kings Norton. To be honest, you've probably never heard of it and I hope that you never need to have need of the unique service that it offers, because it takes on some of the toughest cases of emotionally damaged children in the City. These kids have been through things that would destroy many adults and have ended up as poor attenders at school, if not actually school phobic. Unsurprisingly, to cut costs, it is to be closed at the end of the summer term 2010. It is an easy target, as there are only a small number of children at the unit, who come from a widespread area across the City, so there will not be an outcry sufficient to cause any local electoral upset, but there should be.

It offers a safe haven for Year 11 children who have been viciously bullied. In recent years, it has dealt with a child who had been set alight on the estate where they lived, a boy who had been raped, two other children who had been assaulted, children who have already lost their childhoods as carers for terminally-ill parents, who have suffered parental bereavement or have just taken over parenting duties because their 'real' parents have given up. These young people turn up at Focus as damaged human beings - some self harm, some have attempted suicide - and many have no concept of a future.

The team at Focus usually have less than a year to help these young people before returning them to education or getting them into the world of work. These are tough cases and we owe it to these young men and women to help them turn their lives around. Remember, by and large, they are not disruptive pupils who have been excluded from schools or indulged in anti-social behaviour, they have self-excluded following the destruction of their confidence. Yet still, after a year or so at Focus, these students say
"You have really helped me to grow, not just in education, but in myself" or "The past year has been the best year of my life."
Indeed, despite the shattered stories of many of these pupils, the last full OFSTED inspection noted that the students enjoy their education to an exceptionally high level - a stunning success given their histories. To quote the OFSTED inspection
The major strengths of the college are the positive and supportive relationships that are established with students, who are treated with respect as young adults. Students respond very well to this approach and they start to experience success and develop their self-confidence.... Parents are overwhelmingly positive in their views of the support and help their children receive.

The OFSTED report did highlight deficiencies in certain areas of the curriculum, but a monitoring visit last year showed continued improvement. Somewhere between half and two thirds of the pupils go on to further education - without the college, it is doubtful that any of them would.

So, rather than provide a future for or even expand this unique provision, one that has genuinely saved young lives and put them back on the road, the City Council has decided to scrap the unit and dump these young people into other, inappropriate centres.

I thought much better of Les Lawrence than this. Shame on you, Cllr Lawrence. Shame. You have chosen to deny these children a future. Your department is looking increasingly unfit for purpose.

The closure order should be rescinded immediately.


Praguetory said...

Very emotive. You speak as if the 21 kids on the roll don't have similar alternatives nearby in Selly Oak, Hall Green and Quinton.

PoliticalHack said...

Errrm. They don't. This unit is unique amongst the PRUs.

Anonymous said...

Name those provisions Praguetory! Councillor Lawrence and Ms Garrett should be ashamed of themselves. Those kids have been thrown on the scrapheap with hardly a backward glance by Mr Lawrence and his cohorts!