Fourth-year pupils in Midlothian who have rejected school are to be offered a fresh start through the council's skillseekers programme.
Donald MacKay, the council's director of education, told the education committee on Tuesday that "off-site" provision in Penicuik was failing to reintegrate pupils and it was "expensive and disruptive to pupils and families" to send pupils to special schools outside council boundaries. Around 45 pupils are placed in schools around the country. Some placements can cost around Pounds 15,000 a year.
The council wants to educate more young people with difficulties locally and begin a programme of early intervention in nursery and early primary to prevent problems building in the later years of secondary. Scottish Office grants under the alternatives to exclusion scheme will be used.
But councillors were told that Midlothian's contribution to the Government initiative would have to be met by savings in placing pupils in independent residential schools. The council will have to meet a third of the cost in the second and third years of the scheme.
Mr MacKay said a key shift would be in the Penicuik Education Support Unit, which caters for 15 and 16 year olds who refuse to attend school or who have been excluded. A report to committee emphasised that pupils often had "a history of difficulties and that intervention and support often come too late in the cycle".
In the autumn, older children will be encouraged to join the council's in-house training programme. It is said to be a more appropriate route for pupils who cannot cope with the Standard grade curriculum. Up to 10 full-time places are available. A teacher will provide basic skills modules.
Over the next three years, the council hopes to cut the number of fourth-year students out of school for more than three weeks. Mr MacKay said the scheme would free places at the Penicuik unit for younger pupils who would have more opportunities to be reintegrated into mainstream classes. A new education support and reintegration service will be established from support unit staff, the outreach teaching service and the educational welfare service. It will include staff from social work and community education and be headed by a co-ordinator, funded through the Scottish Office grant.
The council also hopes to trim the number of residential placements by widening local provision. A briefing paper acknowledges that for some children a residential place "is essential for their well-being and educational progress" but that some are only there because of a lack of appropriate local provision.
The council concludes: "As Midlothian is a small authority, expensive residential placements make a big impact on the budget and the current level cannot be sustained in the future."