Amid growing concerns about attendance, exclusions and children’s mental health, and with the government’s SEND and AP improvement plan still in the works, school leaders need actionable solutions now.
Bradford Academy has been fortunate to develop RESET, its own, bespoke, purpose-built, on-site alternative provision. This isn’t easily or quickly accessible to everyone, but what is transferable are elements of our programme of support for learners at risk of permanent exclusion, refusing to access school, trauma-experienced or struggling with their mental health.
With a shortage of alternative provision places nationally, the alternative to a placement doesn’t have to be permanent exclusion or a managed move to a setting that provides more of the same. There are creative ways we can adapt our offer, and other partners like FE colleges (who are increasingly able to enrol students full-time from age 14) which could prove fruitful.
RESET supports learners to re-integrate back into the mainstream. The setting accommodates 24 learners from key stages 3 and 4, and these 24 learners are supported in the RESET building by three full-time qualified teachers (in maths, English and science) and three teaching assistants. At any given time, eight learners are supported by two members of staff.
The aim of RESET is to support students’ wellbeing while keeping them on a learning track that is meaningful to them and opens up opportunities. To that end, our key stage 3 learners access social, emotional and mental health interventions in the form of a programme that offers cooking, adventure, forest schools, leisure and mindfulness, or CALM for short.
Meanwhile, key stage 4 learners access the vocational qualifications pathway, which focuses on level 1 entry-level courses in motor vehicles, construction, hair and beauty, plumbing and electrics. This pathway allows key stage 4 learners to begin to prepare for life after school, whether that’s at a further education college or on an apprenticeship.
But before any intervention is put in place, it’s important to review the learner’s profile to ensure we provide the right support. We involve all stakeholders in that process, including the learner and their parents or carers, to agree a support package. At that point, we decide whether what the young person needs is a long-term intervention (24 to 30 weeks), or a shorter turnaround intervention (usually ranging from 6 to 12 weeks).
Once a decision is made and agreed upon, staff can focus on providing the correct wrap-around support. A short-term turnaround provision could look to focus on providing respite for the learner, but also targeted additional opportunities. One learner was recently offered the chance to go boxing three times a week to support them with anger management. Others regularly benefit from the therapeutic benefits of a practical curriculum. We see daily how meaningful work improves self-esteem and confidence.
For those on longer-term support, there is additional benefit in achieving actual qualifications. A 24-week project where learners get recognition and an official certificate for a relevant qualification not only boosts their confidence but raises their aspirations. This is invaluable in terms of re-integrating into mainstream classes, where a sense of accomplishment and an understanding of their career path motivates them to see their studies through.
However the intervention is structured, we find that monitoring attitudes to learning throughout helps to measure impact and adapt as we go. We use an attitude to learning tracking tool to that end, which outputs six-week overviews across a range of measures.
In the end, the aim is re-integration. This is not an escape from schools’ normal expectations, but an opportunity to reinforce the value and necessity of consistent routines and structures including time keeping, behaviour, uniform and of course learning. Interventions must support students to learn to self-regulate on these important aspects.
The final and crucial step is to support the teachers who will be welcoming these learners back into their classrooms. Our learning passport ensures their achievements and progress are shared with all staff.
The SEND and AP improvement plan signals a general understanding that education itself needs a reset. In the meantime, there’s plenty we can do to ensure young people don’t fall through the cracks.