PCC announces Bedford schools included in ‘persistent absenteeism’ pilot

Bedford Academy front
Bedford Academy

Two schools in Bedford Borough are among seven selected by PCC Festus Akinbusoye to take part in the persistent school absenteeism pilot project being led by the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU).

Bedford Academy and Kempston Challenger Academy join Lea Manor High School, Stockwood Park Academy, All Saints Academy, Samuel Whitbread Academy and the Academy of Central Bedfordshire, with more schools expressing an interest in taking part.

The pilot, which has received criticism from some parents of SEND pupils, will see experienced VERU youth workers provide tailored support to young people with a pattern of persistent absenteeism who could be at risk of exploitation.

The PCC says support for families will also be a part of the initiative.

As part of the pilot scheme, officials from across different agencies in Bedfordshire have been working for months on the programme to ensure the correct processes are in place to best target those most in need of support.

PCC Mr Akinbusoye said: “This entire programme has the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable young people at its heart. It wants to keep children in Bedfordshire safe, pure and simple.

“It is a sad reality that many children caught up in knife crime, in county lines and in serious and organised crime are frequently absent from school, despite the best efforts of parents and our schools.

“The scale of this challenge is enormous: last year 109 children were identified as potential victims of modern slavery in Bedfordshire, while we see too many children coming into police custody for criminal offences.

He said he hopes the scheme will encourage pupils to stay in education and that it could make a “massive difference” to their lives.

“I believe this programme will help enhance all our collective efforts to safeguard our children and keep them in school.”

Staff from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the VERU have been working with a steering group all summer on the programme, which includes school staff as well as directors of education for the county’s three local authorities.

Kerri Rennie, chair of the Bedford Borough Parent Carer Forum (BBPCF), is also a member of the steering group to ensure that the voice of parents and carers of SEND children and young people are acknowledged and heard.

The pilot scheme has resulted in a number of success stories already, including one particpant securing an apprenticeship.

Kimberley Lamb, director of the VERU, said: “Everyone at the VERU is committed to improving the lives of young people here in Bedfordshire. I passionately believe that this project can do that.

“I am aware that there have been concerns about the programme and who it will target.

“Children can be absent for many reasons, such as family holidays and bullying through to children perhaps living with special educational needs or disabilities, which can often be undiagnosed.

“These reasons can often be multi-faceted and complex, but everyone working on the project will be approaching their work with the utmost sensitivity to support children and young people.

“Supporting vulnerable children and keeping them safe is our number one priority.”

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