MPs to investigate PRUs in alternative provision inquiry

The powerful House of Commons education committee has launched an inquiry into alternative provision.

Robert Halfon, the chair of the committee, says MPs want to establish whether pupils in pupil referral units (PRUs) and other types of alternative provision are “receiving the best possible support”.

It is the first schools-related inquiry launched by the new committee, which was formed after June’s election. During the course of the investigation, MPs are expected to quiz government officials, councils and schools.

Some of the most disadvantaged young people are educated through AP, and we want to establish whether they are receiving the best possible support

Alternative provision institutions cater for excluded pupils as well as those with emotional, behavioural and medical needs, and MPs want to hear about how they can be improved.

“Students in alternative provision are far less likely to achieve good exam results, find well-paid jobs or go on to further study,” said Halfon.

“Only around one per cent of young people in state alternative provision receive five good GCSEs.

“As a committee dedicated to promoting social justice, we are committed to examining these issues in our inquiry and pressing government, local authorities, schools and others to do all they can to improve educational outcomes and life chances.”

The debate over the quality of alternative provision has grown in prominence in recent years, as the rate of permanent exclusions from schools has increased.

In May, Schools Week revealed that multi-academy trusts that specialise in alternative provision are being asked to expand and sponsor new schools, as council-run services are squeezed by demand.

Robert Halfon

It also emerged earlier this year that many schools are shifting pregnant pupils into PRUs, while keeping them on roll at their old school.

It follows calls from school leaders for clarity over a proposal to make schools responsible for the pupils they exclude.

Ofsted has warned that many schools are refusing to use poor-quality alternative provision in the face of research that suggests some schools are moving “challenging students” before their exams to boost results.

The education committee is asking for written submissions on the routes into alternative provision, the quality of teaching in PRUs and other institutions, educational outcomes and destinations of pupils.

MPs also want to hear about the safety, accommodation, and provision of resources for students, the in-school alternatives to external alternative provision, and how independent providers are regulated.

Written submissions can be uploaded online here.

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  1. The Education Select Committee could start by reading the latest Ofsted stats. These show there’s been a ‘gradual increase in the proportion of good or outstanding PRUs’. The proportion judged good or better at their most recent inspection is 89%, the same as seen in all state-funded schools.
    The Committee seem to be assuming PRUs are poor in comparison to other schools because their outcomes are lower than other state schools. But if nearly 90% of PRUs are good or better, then the reasons for these low outcomes may be factors beyond PRUs’ control.

    • Mark Watson

      Are you saying that you think it’s a bad idea that the Committee is looking into alternative provision?
      As you say, the reasons for the low outcomes may indeed be factors beyond PRUs’ control – but the flip side of your statement is that the factors may not be beyond their control.
      That’s presumably what the inquiry is going to be looking into. I think that’s a good thing.

    • Thomas Masters

      What that statistic doesn’t account for, is the significant proportion of PRUs that are closed as the result of Inadequate Ofsted judgements. This skews the field somewhat and presents a much more positive picture of PRUs as a whole. For example, the current number of PRUs in England has been reduced to one third of the 1994 population of schools. The reason for closure won’t necessarily be due to poor quality provision in all cases, but it still represents the most common cause.