Alternative provision reforms in the SEND review will create a new “three-tier” system of support, with a focus on early intervention in mainstream schools.
The government’s review includes plans for a shake-up of AP, which is commissioned by councils for children who miss out on mainstream education because of exclusion, illness or other reasons.
There is huge variability in quality across the country, uncertain and fluctuating funding and concerns over unregulated provision.
Nadhim Zahawi this week described outcomes in AP as “shockingly poor”. A Centre for Social Justice report in 2020 found just 4 per cent of pupils in AP achieved a grade 4 in English and maths, compared with 64 per cent in mainstream schools.
Under the reforms, mainstream schools will have a “clear, tiered package of support” for AP.
The first tier will be “targeted support” for children whose needs “lead to behaviour that disrupts theirs or others’ learning”. This could include advice, coaching, self-regulation classes for groups or one-to-one support.
The second tier will be “time-limited” placements in AP for those who need more “intensive support” to address behaviour or anxiety and “re-engage in learning”. Pupils would be dual-registered, and “supported to return to their original school as soon as is appropriate”.
‘No quick fix’, say AP heads
The third tier will make transitional placements for children who won’t go back to their old school, but will be supported to transition to a different school “when they are ready, or to a suitable post-16 destination”.
ACE Schools provides AP for around 250 children across the south west. The organisation already supports schools in the region with interventions, CPD and advice.
Head Matthew Bindon said: “This is complex work for children whose needs have not previously been met. To provide them with some of the skills and abilities and curriculum they need to be successful is not quick and not easy.”
Dave Whitaker, director of learning at the Wellspring Academy Trust, which has 28 primary, special and alternative provision schools, warned there were “no quick fixes” for some children.
“I don’t want people to think that a lot of these children can be cured by spending a bit of time in an AP and then go back and everything is fine. There’s a long-lasting intervention that’s needed with some of these kids.”
The green paper also pledged to “break the link” between individual pupil movements and funding.
Local SEND “partnerships” will have to create AP-specific budgets, “ideally for a minimum of three years”.
Partnerships will then work out the amount each tier needed, agreeing the cost of each service and how to manage changes in demand.
‘Fluctuating’ funding affects provision
Councils will then have to distribute funding in line with the plan, with cash “no longer following the movement of each individual child or young person”.
Bindon said the proposals were “really promising. At the moment, where that funding fluctuates with pupils, we can’t guarantee how much work we can do in schools because we don’t know how much money’s coming in.”
Whitaker said the “stability of AP depends on funding them as if they’re full…you can’t just be chasing the money and expanding capacity as soon as children come into it”.
Sarah Johnson, president of PRUsAP, said the review of funding should consider how to “ensure parity of support for children that isn’t based on their locality”.
“We would like to know how smaller PRU and AP will be supported to be able to make long-term plans that meet the needs of the children and families in the community.”
Ministers also plan to shake up accountability with a new performance table and national performance framework for AP.
This would be based on five key metrics: outreach support, attendance, reintegration, attainment (with a focus on English and maths) and post-16 transitions.
Concerns over AP league table plan
Whitaker said the concept of performance measures was “ok, because it’s good to be able to work to some parameters”.
“But to then drop it into a league table, we’re now introducing AP into a league table scenario, which we don’t even want for mainstream schools.”
Bindon welcomed the extra accountability, but said outcomes from AP had to be “viewed with an air of caution”.
“I think it’s going to need some real precision in terms of its implementation.”
The DfE will also review how children and young people move around the school system, which will feed into a “statutory framework” for all pupil movements to deliver “greater oversight and transparency”.
A call for evidence will also be held before the summer on the use of unregistered provision.
Alice Wilcock, head of education at the Centre for Social Justice, said the greater focus on early intervention was a “welcome shift”. Many AP leaders are “experts in their area local areas, but all too often their knowledge goes unrecognised”.
Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference, which places mainstream leaders in pupil referral units, said AP schools needed to be “adequately funded to be able to hire those teachers who can then change outcomes for young people”.