Reduced cash threatens ‘invaluable’ alternative provision pilot

AP specialist taskforces provide mental health professionals, family workers and speech and language therapists

AP specialist taskforces provide mental health professionals, family workers and speech and language therapists

24 Nov 2023, 5:00

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Schools taking part in an “invaluable” government scheme to stop vulnerable pupils in alternative provision (AP) “entering a life of crime” say reduced funding is squeezing their support.

AP specialist taskforces, launched by the DfE in November 2021, provide pupils at participating schools with support from mental health professionals, family workers and speech and language therapists.

The aim of the £15 million two-year pilot across 22 schools was to support young people most at risk of “serious violence or gang exploitation”, and help them to move into further education, employment or training.

The DfE promised to extend funding for the pilot until March 2025, a commitment laid out in its SEND and AP improvement plan earlier this year.

The plan said the scheme was “demonstrating the value of…offering timely and accessible support” and not-yet-published evidence from the pilot should encourage “local areas to consider [it] as an effective model” for their AP inclusion plans.

In August, the DfE announced the extension would be backed by an extra £7 million. But it has since confirmed to Schools Week that only 75 per cent of the costs have been covered by government funding.

The other quarter has to “be met via local match funding”, including through local authorities and trust reserves, “as part of the move to a sustainable model going forward”.

Scheme ‘absolutely invaluable’

Gerry Robinson, executive headteacher of Haringey Learning Partnership in north London, said the scheme had been “absolutely invaluable”.

But the funding reduction had put “huge pressure” on the pupil referral unit, which has had to foot half the salary of a social worker as part of the taskforce. This year’s art therapy sessions had to be cut as a result.

“You can’t offer the same support. Because money is having to be redirected to provide the match funding for the taskforce, other parts of the provision will suffer,” he said.

Gerry Robinson
Gerry Robinson

Astrid Schon, head at London East AP, said the funding change had added “a significant amount of pressure on to our school budget”.

But she was “really concerned” that if funding ran dry after March 2025, it might not be able to retain specialists such as a gangs’ coordinator who provided on-site mediation and support for pupils at risk of exploitation.

“It’s making a massive difference to being able to assess the kids and support them.”

Phil Willot, director of education at the Raleigh Education Trust, which runs a taskforce in Nottingham, said it would “cause concern” if no funding was available beyond the pilot.

But he added that the responsibility should not lie solely with the DfE.

“It’s really important that policymakers from other aspects of society, like healthcare, are made aware of the impact it’s having,” he said.

The DfE said the pilot was being “fully evaluated” by independent evaluators in partnership with the Youth Endowment Fund.

But Willot said that between January 2022 and July 2023, there had been a 30 per cent drop in mental health referrals from Raleigh to external agencies. A third of pupils also “improved their attendance”.

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