Opt-out schools plan centres for problem pupils centres Schools seek to profit from problem pupils

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The Independent Online
Dozens of grant maintained schools are keen to open special units for disruptive children, it emerged yesterday. The centres could charge fees to look after other schools' problem pupils.

Plans to allow opted-out schools to run separate facilities for trouble- makers, announced by the Prime Minister last September, have proved very popular.

As well as bringing some schools extra income, they will prevent high levels of exclusion, which school inspectors dislike.

The Government is likely to offer pounds 1m over the next three years to opted- out schools which want to run school-based centres for pupils who might otherwise be excluded. Instead of being told they must seek another school place, problem children will be allowed to stay on their school's roll but will be taught separately.

Officials at the Department for Education and Employment have received 61 expressions of interest and 15 firm bids from opted-out schools keen to join the scheme.

John Major announced last year that he would like to see opted-out schools running these centres, and the idea was mentioned in a White Paper in June. Ministers are also considering legislation to let groups of grant maintained schools jointly set up special units for pupils with problems.

However, plans for single-school centres to open next January are already well advanced, with bids for the funds due in by the end of September. Until now, most units for disruptive children have been run by local authorities and have been for those who have already been excluded.

There are no plans to allow grant maintained schools to run boarding facilities for pupils with behavioural problems, though. There had been reports that new centres surrounded by barbed wire would help to contain those children.

Sir Bob Balchin, chairman of the Grant Maintained Schools Trust, said the moves would be welcomed by schools.

"There is a small percentage of disruptive pupils in our schools who cause mayhem out of proportion to their numbers," he said. "It is right that they should be off-site where they cannot damage the education of the 97 per cent who want to learn."

Cecil Knight, head teacher of the grant maintained Small Heath School in Birmingham, also welcomed the plans, though he said an internal unit which been had run for many years for pupils at his own school was being disbanded.

"We found it was rather an expensive way of dealing with it, but there were clearly some heads who want it," he said. "The idea is that if you take on a youngster from another school they would pay. You aren't going to make a huge profit but you could certainly cover your expenses."