TWO of the district’s pupil referral units could soon be designated as special schools, a committee of head teachers has been told.

The Bradford Schools Forum was told that many of the pupils that currently attend Park Primary PRU in West Bowling and Ellar Carr PRU in Thackley had special educational or developmental needs, and that Bradford Council were looking to convert them into official specialist schools by October 2019.

The move will be part of a push to create more dedicated places for children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) conditions like autism throughout the Bradford district.

Pupil referral units teach children who have been excluded from mainstream schools, and there are currently six council run PRUs in the district.

The committee was told that the schools were effectively already operating as special schools, and by designating these schools as specialist schools they would receive more funding.

During the meeting one head said new places were urgently needed, as there was a rising number of primary school aged children with special educational needs being excluded from schools unable to cope with their needs.

Last year Bradford Council announced plans to create around 360 SEND places after existing special school provision was described as being “bursting at the seams.” Since then 220 places have been created in local schools, with that number expected to have risen to 337 by next January.

Ellar Carr PRU has 54 spaces, while Park Primary has 50 places.

The 360 places will be followed by two purpose built SEND free schools, with one expected to open in 2020.

Dominic Wall, head of Southfield School, pointed out that any new schools would need to be academies due to rules which prevent councils from opening new schools. He was concerned that, although talks are in place with academy sponsors, there were no firm agreements currently in place.

He said: “It is important we have the right sponsors to run these schools. We have been talking about the changes to SEND schools since 2015, and we are still talking about them. We have had a long period where discussions have waxed and waned. We are also seeing an explosion in the number of exclusions of children with special emotional and mental health needs from primary schools who don’t have the facilities to deal with them.”

Ian Morrel, head of Titus Salt School, said: “My concerns are in the short term how we meet the needs of these pupils. I work day to day with families whose needs aren’t being met by the current provision.”

Michael Jameson, strategic director of children’s services, said: “This is part of one of the biggest change in children’s services in recent years, all against the backdrop of austerity. You can argue that until they come into place, some children’s needs aren’t being met, but you could say they have not been met for a while. We recognise there is a bit of a risk with these changes, and they have to be factored in.”

Following the meeting a Bradford Council spokesman said: “These proposals are at an early stage. This is being considered because of the number of pupils at these two PRUs who have education, health and care plans.

“We want to work with our schools to ensure that our provision is best placed to meet the needs of its pupils.”