EDUCATION bosses battling mounting numbers of pupils being excluded from schools have been praised for a move to provide children more support in mainstream schools, but told it will not be a “complete solution”.

North Yorkshire County Council has unveiled detailed plans to support a sea change in the way children at risk of exclusion are handled, described by the authority as a “preventative and inclusive culture”.

The changes have proved controversial, sparking protests, and campaigners have claimed three of the county’s five pupil referral unit head teachers have resigned as a result.

The council’s leading members will meet next week to consider the changes which will save the £1.2m and help offset spiralling pressures over funding children with high needs.

However, the council’s executive member for education, Councillor Patrick Mulligan said the main reason for the changes is to cut school exclusions. which have risen by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Department for Education data shows.

Rising exclusions is a nationwide issue, but the rate in North Yorkshire was above the national average in 2017/18, with 26 out of 43 secondary schools permanently excluding at least one young person.

Teaching unions have claimed government cuts to education funding have left schools less able to help children with challenging behaviour before it escalates.

Cllr Mulligan said changes to the system are needed. He added: “Evidence shows that children and young people who are permanently excluded suffer in terms of educational outcomes, and life chances. So wherever possible we believe they should remain within mainstream education, in their local school with the right support and curriculum to meet their needs.”

One school which has already embraced the council’s philosophy is Risedale Sports and Community College in Catterick, where school leaders say exclusion is “the last resort”. It has seen a 90 per cent drop in the number of students removed from lessons, but has also seen its pupil progress score drop slightly.

The council said the new model of alternative provision will be more flexible, to meet the needs of children and young people locally.

In Hambleton and Richmondshire, for example, the new system will see up to 30 Key Stage 3 and 4 children provided for at Sunbeck pupil referral unit in Northallerton, alongside a range of offsite opportunities and activities such as work experience, outdoor education and community-based projects.

Schools and pupil referral units have agreed changes in every area in the county apart from Harrogate, where campaigners claim the all the available options would be “hugely disruptive”.

A Save the Pupil Referral Service spokesman said: “As things stand, the financial picture looks bleak for the Grove. Put simply, the money is running out. Staff are extremely concerned that redundancies are on the horizon during this school year.

“This would be hugely disruptive for students as the teachers they know and love, and many of the subjects which they teach, will be lost. The staff will not be easily replaced, especially on half of the budget.”

Campaigners say students and their families need security for the future and the least the council can do is to assure them that they may see out the full school year.

The spokesman added: “We believe other pupil referral units across the county have been given this assurance, so the situation in Harrogate appears grossly unfair.

“We have campaigned for nearly a year to oppose the cold budget-slashing the council seems intent upon, but our appeals have only won a stay of execution for the pupil referral service. We need the council to take action now.”

John Warren, head of the Grove pupil referral unit, said: “It still seems foolhardy to reduce one service with a long record of outstanding education in the hope that new untried providers will spring up in the future.

“To me the changes still feel rushed through because the county council is in financially desperate straits. The new inclusion ethos is admirable, but is not a complete solution to the current exclusion crisis.”