‘They changed my life’: Cutbacks at Fenland’s pupil referral units meet furious reaction

CUTBACKS at Fenland’s pupil referral units have been met with a furious reaction from parents and pupils who claim the centres are vital and life-changing.

More than 1,000 people have backed a Facebook campaign protesting against the possible closure of the skills centre, at Longhill, March, and the tuition centre, in Burrowmoor Road.

Sophie Ward, 17, was excluded from secondary school when she was 13 and, after spending three weeks at the tuition centre, chose to stay there permanently.

She said: “When I was at school I was a little brat. My family were ready to throw me out, they’d had enough.

“Without the centre, I might not have my family around me. I wouldn’t have been able to get a job or go to college. They’ve turned my life around really.

“When I went there I wasn’t interested in school but they made me see that it was my future. They put people’s faith back into education.”

The teenager left the centre last year with GCSEs in Maths and English. She is now preparing to go to college and hopes to become a police officer.

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The proposed cuts could see up to 33 of the 133 people employed by the county’s service lose their jobs.

Education chiefs are planning to provide Fenland schools with around �1 million to spend on providing “more tailored support” with heads deciding how money is spent.

A spokesman for Cambrigeshire County Council said the current service was “under-used”.

The spokesman said: “The budget is not being cut, but reinvested into the schools. There will continue to be some PRU provision.

“We aim to retain as many young people in education as possible with a full time curriculum being offered. There were, as recently as a year ago, 160 young people outside of mainstream school and we expect this number to drop to fewer than 50.

“The schools are committed to inclusion and improved outcomes for all young people.”

Hannah Wright, 16, from Whittlesey, said: “The tuition centre changed my life after I lost all interest in mainstream education. They supported me 100% through loads of tough times and never gave up on me.

“I can't believe they would want to shut the school down. It has helped loads of children over the years and I think it is so sad that children in the future will not benefit like I did.

“Many kids face a future of doing nothing if this school closes down.”

The main Fenland centre, in Station Road, March, will be saved but will probably move to a new purpose built unit in Wisbech once planning is agreed.

Mother Ann Thomas, who started the Facebook campaign, said: “When my son first went to the skills centre he couldn’t read or write. Now he’s got an apprenticeship in motor mechanics.

“They are absolutely fantastic. He would never be where he is today without them.” Gill Kruge said her son went to the tuition centre after he was bullied at secondary school. He is now a support worker helping other young people.

“They did everything for him,” she said. “He came out with social skills, confidence and qualifications. He owes so much to them.”

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