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Excluded move up to the boardroom

Schools must work together to deal with difficult pupils, says Sir Alan Steer, and the Chesil partnership in Dorset is likely to be held up as the perfect example.

When all 28 state schools in the neighbouring towns of Weymouth and Portland, connected by the Chesil beach, first decided to collaborate in 2003, the main motivation was to save money by cutting better deals with suppliers.

But the partnership soon realised it could also tackle issues such as behaviour. Lists of at-risk pupils were shared, Special needs coordinators worked together and the schools moved difficult pupils around between them to avoid exclusion.

They have now taken that thinking a step further with the Compass centre which opens in Weymouth next month. Like a pupil-referral unit, it will deal with excluded pupils and those at risk of exclusion. But it will also include further education and serve parents and the wider community. And the hope is that by kitting it out to feel more like an office than a school, with boardroom style desks, it can avoid the stigma that can come with PRUs.

Gary Fooks, director of the Chesil partnership, said: "In the past they were seen as naughty boy or naughty girl sink places where you went if you were a failure. But it doesn't have to be like that because if you work with challenging pupils in the right setting and get them fired up they can be very successful."

Dorset council has delegated its entire excluded children (out of service) budget for the area to the centre.

Teachers from the service will work there with educational psychologists, social, youth and health workers, education welfare officers and representatives of agencies including Sure Start, Relate and Connexions.

Sue Sockham, head of Radipole primary and vice chair of the partnership, said: "We all know that sometimes kids get to the end of the road and create such a hole for themselves that it can be very difficult to get out of.

"But if by collaborating as schools we can give them other options, through things such as managed moves and Compass, then we are all winners."

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