Turning Pupil Referral Units (PRU) into Academies could hinder the progress of a troubled youngster’s education, a senior politician has warned.

Councillor Ralph Berry, the executive member for Children’s Services for Bradford Council, claimed that the Government had a “hidden agenda” in wanting to turn the PRUs for children with emotional and behavioural problems into Academies not under local authority control.

Teaching unions also condemned the potential move saying that PRUs should not operate out of local authority control.

The Department for Education had earlier announced that “excellent PRUs” could start applying for Academy status by May.

Bradford has five PRUs across the district including one unit for those of primary school age.

“I think this is a further attempt at fragmentation,” Coun Berry said.

“By using other strategies and policies we hope to move away from PRUs, but becoming an Academy creates an incentive to keep people and could prove difficult for people to move on.

“By turning PRUs into Academies, how many back up resources are there? I have real concerns about the impact this could have and am certain it may be a form of privatisation.

“There could be a vested interest in keeping children there and it is always more difficult to support and intervene and advise an Academy if there are issues of poor practice.”

Pam Milner, regional spokesman for the NASUWT, urged PRUs to think carefully before changing their status and said anyone thinking of going down the Academy route should do their research and contact the unions before making a decision.

“It would be a retrograde step for PRUs to go down that route,” she said.

“These children will not be under the protective umbrella of the network of services that exist now.

“It is private enterprise and are these children going to be safe, looked after, with the same degree of funding?

“I would like to see robust safeguarding in place for all of these children. I know of one school that stopped going down the Academy route because of funding issues.”

Ian Murch, assistant branch secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it would become a big problem because, by their very nature, PRUs were difficult units to run.

“This is a silly idea and anyone other than the Government would think it is silly,” he added.

“The capacity for things to go wrong is there because you are dealing with very challenging children. Our PRU teachers would be horrified if they thought their status was changing.”

Stuart Herdson, of the ATL, said that PRUS were even smaller than small primary schools.

“I can’t see any taking place in Bradford,” he added.