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City gets real with a virtual school

THAT difficult question of what to do with problem pupils could soon be solved, writes Clare Dean.

Education officials in Birmingham are considering creating a virtual school in an attempt to cope with the estimated 150 children in the city who end up lost to the education system.

It would be the first in the country though Kent and Somerset did set up a virtual education action zone last year to link 24 schools more than 100 miles apart.

The idea in Birmingham is to persuade mainstream schools to continue to support pupils at

risk of exclusion, truancy and teenage pregnancy, as well as children in care.

Under proposals to be discussed by councillors next month, Birmingham's education department would set up a clearing house by next April for children who come off the at-risk register with no school to go to.

These pupils would be registered as being affliated to Birmingham's University of the First Age and the Children's University even though they may be educated i other settings.

The school would be officially recognised with a Department for Education and Employment number and would receive funding in the usual ways.

While there may be a physical building, the report to councillors talks of a virtual school as "an arrangement (to) persuade mainstream schools to continue to support pupils".

Secondary-school performance tables published by the Welsh Assembly this week revealed large disparities in truancy rates between local education authorities in Wales.

For example, unauthorised absence is nine times as prevalent in Cardiff as it is in Merthyr Tydfil.

However, Merthyr Tydfil, which has the lowest unauthorised absence rate in Wales, performs less well than Cardiff on most academic measures.

Cardiff accounts for seven of the 10 mainstream state schools with the highest levels of unauthorised absence in Wales. One comprehensive in the city has a truancy rate of 9.1 per cent.

Welsh performance

tables, 24-25

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