An estimated 20,000 pupils are being taught in unregistered alternative provision units – some which do not meet basic safeguarding standards, new research has found.
The study by the Centre for Social Justice found the government nor councils had accurate data on these children – many which have been excluded from mainstream schools – including where they are and what education they are receiving.
Researchers found examples of unregistered AP employing staff that did not have disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks.
In an agricultural education AP, a firearm was discovered in an unlocked room while at another provider, work experience bordered on child labour.
The law does not require educational settings to register with the Department for Education unless they educate five or more pupils full time -18 hours a week.
CSJ wants this “loophole” closed and is urging the government to set up a “light-touch” registration framework.
Lord Storey, co-chair of the APPG on school exclusions and AP, said: “These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and they need all the support and protection that we can possibly give them.
“It is time to bring these children back into view.”
Patchy alternative provision data
Government data found the top three reasons for sending a child to unregistered AP was “behavioural support” followed by “other” and a mental health medical condition.
The data on unregistered AP is patchy – as it comes from multiple sources.
The school census data shows just over 12,000 children were registered at a school and unregistered AP while the AP census estimates about 8,300 pupils were commissioned by councils into unregistered AP.
There is also a lack of reliable, up-to-date data about providers, CSJ said. A DfE estimate from 2012 said there were “several thousand”, possibly “over 10,000”.
Some unregistered APs and councils told CSJ the process of registering with the DfE is “labour intensive” especially on providers with small staffing teams.
Other vocational training APs have been told by Ofsted that to be considered for registration they are required to offer a full curriculum.
But not registering means there is a “critical shortfall of oversight”, CSJ warned, and Ofsted does not have to inspect this provision.
In some cases, councils have taken it upon themselves to oversee the sector locally, but there is no requirement to do this.
Unregistered settings are also not legally compelled to carry out safeguarding checks, such as DBS and appointing designated safeguarding leads.
In one case, a firearm was discovered in an unlocked room at a provider delivering agricultural education. A police investigation resulted in the removal of the firearm, but since then the provider has continued to operate as usual.
In another case, CSJ said pupils were supposedly gaining work experience with a mechanic and it transpired that the provision was crossing the line into child labour.
Ministers are ‘in the dark’
CSJ calls for a new statutory registration framework should be implemented, requiring unregistered education providers to share pupils and setting details. These would then be “licensed supplementary education providers”.
Councils should be responsible for collecting these details and submit them to the DfE. CSJ also wants a national framework for minimum standards.
Beth Prescott, senior AP researcher at CSJ, said ministers “are in the dark” adding: “While some providers do a fantastic job offering bespoke support to children, without knowing which children are in these settings and where all the settings are, it is impossible to ensure that proper standards of teaching, learning and safeguarding are being maintained.”
A DfE call for evidence on unregistered AP use closed almost a year ago. A DfE spokesperson said analysis will be published “later this year and will set out further proposals in due course”.