The practice of academies that exclude pupils to skew their results and claim “rapid improvements” is set to be stamped out under reforms that will keep schools accountable for the grades of excluded youngsters.
A report by the Centre for High Performance last week revealed some academy trusts exclude pupils to change the profile of their intake and increase results.
But under the government’s alternative provision (AP) reforms, schools will be held responsible for the achievement of pupils they exclude until they find a place at another mainstream school. If a pupil remains in AP, their grades will still be counted in the excluding school’s performance results.
The white paper also states that tailored plans will be expected for every pupil in AP provision.
Tracy Pepper, education director at AP provider Catch22, said: “It is our view that every child belongs in mainstream [education], but unless the mainstream model changes to accommodate a broader range of needs, there will always be a need for AP.
“This report acknowledges this need but we would like to see greater emphasis on the value good AP can provide. Commissioning better quality AP is a no-brainer.”
The reforms follow a report by Ofsted last month saying that schools must do more to protect vulnerable and disenfranchised pupils.
Sean Harford (pictured), Ofsted’s national director for education, told Schools Week he welcomed the plans: “These proposals are about ensuring schools commission high quality AP and remain accountable for the educational outcomes of pupils placed in such settings.”
But Ofsted’s report praised schools for taking more responsibility for AP – switching from “poor-quality” external providers to in-house interventions.
Schools were also spending more with the average spend per AP pupil rising from £2,536 to £3,217 in three years.
Another proposal is for an innovation fund to “test new approaches to pupils who move from AP to post-16 education”, to include “exploring opportunities for social impact bonds”. Bond programmes are a form of “payment by results” in which providers are only recompensed if hitting pre-agreed outcome targets.
Schools will also be encouraged to support AP providers by sharing subject specialists and facilities.
Ms Pepper said the pledges are welcome, particularly the potential for innovation offered by the new fund. “But there is no one-size-fits-all. Facing many challenges, AP achieves incredible results that young people would not achieve anywhere else. This must be acknowledged and celebrated.”
While the white paper’s focus on AP has been heralded, Bart Shaw, an associate at think-tank LKMco, says the “omission” of special educational needs and disability (SEND) “continued marginalisation of SEND within the government’s vision”.
The Department for Education confirmed to Schools Week that special schools will fall under the government’s proposals to turn every school into an academy.
However, Jarlath O’Brien, headteacher of a special school in Surrey, said this could reduce support for SEND to “almost nothing”.
Local authorities, as previously reported by Schools Week, will remain responsible for high needs funding and the quality of SEND provision in their area.
But Mr Shaw added: “In an era of universal academisation and tight local government budgets, it is far from clear that local authorities are best placed to monitor the quality of SEND provision in schools.”
He instead suggests regional schools commissioners could take responsibility.