STAFF, including teachers, at Huntingdonshire’s only ‘pupil referral unit’ for youngsters excluded from school could lose their jobs following a proposed cut-back.

Education chiefs say the current service capacity across Cambridgeshire is under-used following the decision by a growing number of heads to make provision for more youngsters in their own schools, particularly those with medical needs, such as anxieties, phobias and developing mental health problems.

Cambridgeshire County Council has begun a 30-day consultation that could see the pupil referral unit in Mayfield Road, Huntingdon – formerly known as the Amber Centre – reduce its pupil numbers from 75 to 50.

Many of the older pupils attached to the Mayfield facility are already educated at the nearby Huntingdonshire Regional College site in California Road, where they can continue seamlessly with vocational training after reaching school-leaving age.

Tom Jefford, head of the county council’s youth support services, said the Mayfield facility had been notably successful. But now that most (£1.3million a year) of the former county pupil referral budget had been devolved to secondary schools in Huntingdonshire, the scale of activity at Mayfield had to be reduced to reflect the £750,000 a year still available for its work.

“That’s a sizeable amount for them to invest in their own schools,” he told The Hunts Post. “They can deal with the medical needs in their own schools by identifying problems at an earlier stage. And the rate of permanent exclusion has gone down markedly, with those issues being dealt with in other ways. The schools say they want to look after that themselves, so we have given them the money.”

Across the county similar cuts are proposed that could see up to 33 of the 113 employed in the service lose their jobs.

“Once we looked at it district by district we quickly realised we had too much provision which has created the engine for change.”

Mr Jefford added that the whole service is being reformed with a new curriculum and a much closer working relationship with schools”.