Joy as Coltishall PRU is set to be saved

The chairman of the governors at North Norfolk's only school for children with behavioural problems has warmly welcomed a Norfolk County Council decision to spare it from the axe.

The Douglas Bader Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) at Coltishall was understood to be under threat as part of an overhaul of the system which is currently going through a period of consultation.

But on Saturday the council confirmed that Coltishall, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn PRUs were likely to be retained, with the one at Elm Road, Thetford to close.

Brian Hannah, county councillor for Sheringham and chairman of Douglas Bader PRU, said: 'I'm delighted for our area and for the youngsters. Keeping it open will make such a big difference, not just in terms of travel times.'

The news came as the Norfolk Association of Secondary Headteachers (Nash) demanded a council rethink of the proposals to move from five PRUs to three short stay schools and one 'hard to place' centre.

And three current heads of PRUs in Norfolk also called on the council to keep things as they are.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said the council wanted to work more closely with schools to keep youngsters in mainstream education - using the four bases for short-stay 'cooling off' spells.

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But Nash said the changes would:

? Increase 'already unacceptable' transport times for children

? Harm vulnerable children and have an 'impact' on families across Norfolk

? Cost the council more in transporting youngsters around the county

? Fail to take into account the expected increased demand for behaviour support.

Part of the proposal, which would save �213,000 per year, would be to have a single executive headteacher overseeing all four bases.

A paper drawn up by the PRU headteachers said: 'We are greatly concerned that the proposals put forward will reduce the capacity of children's services to respond to the inevitable growth in demand for PRU places, have a leadership system which is too distant and therefore less able to find solutions to those growing demands, and provide a less satisfactory response to schools' families' and pupils' needs than is currently in place.'

Mrs Thomas said the proposal was the result of two years of 'careful and thorough research'.

She said: 'We believe that working with schools to help prevent exclusion is in the best interests of the children concerned and provides the best value for money.

'We recognise that in some cases, exclusion will be a necessary step and under our proposal four pupil referral units would remain in operation, in Norwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Coltishall.

'The aim is to shift the focus of these units towards making them short-stay schools, allowing excluded pupils a cooling off period and for assessments to take place to determine what the best solution would be for them, whether that is returning to their original school or taking a place in a different school.

'Specialist, long-term placements would still be available for those few pupils for whom returning to mainstream education is not deemed to be an option.'