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"It's outrageous": Harrogate teenager's fight to save her former school from "devastating" cuts

Zoe Pickering

Published at 7:02am 6th November 2018.

Cuts to North Yorkshire's Pupil Referral Units have been branded "outrageous" and "devastating" by a former Harrogate pupil. 

17-year-old Zoe Pickering attended The Grove Academy, Harrogate's Pupil Referral Unit, when she was 14. 

The school, which is rated as Outstanding by Ofsted, takes children with complex behavioural and mental health problems who have been excluded from mainstream education.

It's facing a 83% reduction in funding, a loss of £800,000. Nine teachers will lose their jobs and several arts subjects will be lost.

North Yorkshire County Council is currently consulting on plans to change the way it funds provision for children and young people with additional needs. It means all of its Pupil Referral Units will receive a funding cut. 

Zoe, who's autistic, received a GCSE in Art during her two years at the school. She says she's worried about the impact losing arts subjects will have on students. 

She told Stray FM: 

"It made my self-esteem go up and I feel like I have the ability to do things, which a lot of the time I don't, especially before I got that qualification.

"I feel outraged because that was the most important part of my education. For a lot of people it would be more helpful than you can imagine." 

Zoe has launched a petition which so far has more than 1,000 signatures. She is also encouraging people to go to a public consultation event which is taking place tomorrow at The Cedar Court Hotel at midday.

You can hear more from Zoe here: 



Zoe's mum, Dr Rachael Pickering, became a parent governor at The Grove shortly after Zoe started there. A former prison GP, she's taken over as governor responsible for safeguarding. She says the cuts mean the school will only be able to offer English and Maths, which could be devastating for the students.

She said: 

"Children who are very hard to educate have often lost such a lot of confidence in these mainstream English and Maths classes that they don't want to touch it. As Zoe's story shows, it's Art or another creative or non-academic discipline that draws them back in."

Rachael is also raising concerns over student safety if the cuts go ahead. 

She added

"With a skeleton staff at The Grove, children with special needs, people with neurodevelopmental problems such as autism, people with complex mental health problems such as bipolar, they won't be able to be safely and properly supported.

"And we ignore these children at our peril. Society needs to plug the gap between people who are not bale to be educated in mainstream schools and people who risk dropping out of mainstream school altogether. 

"I happen to be a prison GP by profession. I've seen young adults arriving for their first prison term who talk about, as an early teenager, dropping out of mainstream school. They hang about on the streets and get no chance for a niche, bespoke education." 

A Stray FM investigation has revealed the number of students excluded from secondary schools in North Yorkshire has risen over the last three years. Since 2015, the figure has risen by nearly a third, going from 1,526 in 2015-16 to 1,978 in 2017-18. 

Rachael says they have noticed a rise in the number of children referred to The Grove. 

You can hear more from Rachael here: 


North Yorkshire County Council says it wants students to remain in mainstream education where possible, and is suggesting creating local partnerships made up of leaders from local primary and secondary schools and post-16 providers.

It says the plan was shaped by feedback from families, young people and partners.

Jane le Sage, North Yorkshire County Council’s assistant director for inclusion, said:

“Our vision is to deliver better outcomes for young people. We know that permanent exclusion has a negative impact in terms of educational outcomes and options in later life. So wherever possible we believe children should remain within mainstream education, in their local school with support to meet their needs.

“The proposals we are now consulting on are designed to help us to achieve that vision. We want to put spending power into the hands of local education leaders who best understand the needs in their area. We want to enable schools to utilise the resources available for alternative provision more flexibly to meet children’s needs in the best way, with the goal of reducing the number of young people permanently excluded and improving outcomes for them.

“That’s why we propose creating local partnerships made up of leaders from local primary and secondary schools and post-16 providers. The partnerships would work with the local authority, putting decision-making into the hands of local leaders. The partnerships would be allocated a sum of money and would have the flexibility to decide how to use that money to meet the needs of children and young people.

“Under our proposals, we would still provide enough places for the education of young people who have been permanently excluded from school. In Harrogate we intend to commission between 28 and 31 places per year and we would fund these places at £17,000 a place, rather than the current £19,000, which would bring us into line with national averages. Local partnerships could commission more provision from the pupil referral service if they felt that was the best option.

“As outlined in our strategic plan, we are reviewing the model of provision for young people who are unable to attend school due to medical conditions, including those with mental health needs, to strengthen the support they receive. We will ensure that this provision is available to those who need it and any proposed changes will be subject to a full public consultation in the near future.

“We recognise that our proposals may impact on the current model of alternative provision, but we are committed to working with mainstream and pupil referral service/alternative provision head teachers to agree a model which is fit for purpose into the future and focuses more on prevention rather than the need for permanent exclusion.”

North Yorkshire County Council's plans are currently out for consultation until 11th November.

The survey is on the county council website at

You can find Zoe's petition at

Zoe also has a Facebook page, which you can find by searching Save the PRS. 

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