A pioneering centre for troubled teenagers has become the first pupil referral unit in the country to secure academy status – allowing it to accept pupils who have not been expelled from another school.
Ministers hope the freedoms granted to the newly named Complementary Education Academy in Northampton will encourage other pupil referral units to follow suit and take greater control of their admissions.
Bobbie Kelly, the headteacher of the 230-pupil school for 11- to 16-year-olds, said she decided to quit local council control so she could help a wider range of young people.
Complementary Education already operated on seven sites in Northamptonshire, but under its arrangement with the county council could only take in pupils after they had been excluded from mainstream schooling.
Ms Kelly, whose school has been rated as "outstanding" by the education standards watchdog Ofsted, wanted to start working with pupils at risk of being excluded from school – so they could be helped before they were actually expelled.
She said: "Now we are able to negotiate directly with headteachers, take on pupils of theirs who are at risk of exclusion and get them back on track with their school and really engaging with education."
The school has a remarkable record in re-engaging the young people it takes in with some form of education – 70 per cent go back to their own school and 12 per cent go on to some form of training. It prepares personal GCSE programmes for all its children and has an exam pass rate far above the average for pupil referral units.
On arrival at CEA every pupil is given an alarm clock – to drum into them the sense that punctuality and attendance is important.
The Schools Minister, Elizabeth Truss, said: "Academy status has given heads and teachers freedom to make the decisions they know will suit their pupils best – unconstrained by Whitehall and town hall politics and bureaucrats. Already thousands of mainstream schools have chosen to convert. Now the first pupil referral unit has chosen to do so – and children are already reaping the benefits of that decision."