Warming the cold spots of alternative provision

11 May 2020, 6:00

Exclusion rates fell during Covid.

A new report on the state of alternative provision makes for some dire reading but there’s plenty of evidence it doesn’t have to be that way, writes Cath Murray

When you want to sell a story about excluded children into the mainstream media, it has to be about how dire their outcomes, or awful the schools that educate them are. Success stories are of lesser interest.

So when I’ve tried to talk about the report that we published today, people want to know what the really bad statistics are. And there are plenty.

Yes, it’s true that in 13 local authority areas not a single child has passed their maths and English GCSE in the past three years. Yes, half of children are NEET immediately after leaving their alternative provision school. Yes, one in five excluded children is educated in a school poorly-rated by Ofsted, compared to one in eight in mainstream or one in 20 in special.

And yes, we have identified five ‘AP cold spots’ – areas of the country where we can be confident that excluded children have a poor-to-zero chance of getting a quality education. These are Tameside, Peterborough, Sheffield, Southend-on-Sea and Newcastle.

The experts exist in this space to lead on system improvement

And there may be many more AP cold spots. The quality of data gathered on children educated in alternative provision simply isn’t good enough. We only have confidence in the data for 26 out of 151 local authority areas – the number for which we were able to track over 70% of children educated full-time in AP.

But as we’ve travelled the country visiting AP schools and talking to pupils, teachers and leaders, we’ve also heard uplifting stories and seen excellent practice.

Chessbrook in Watford has flipped their entire model to focus on therapeutic and remedial work upstream in their school community, guided by the brilliant work of the Anna Freud Centre on family engagement.

Aspire in Buckinghamshire has incorporated a restorative justice approach throughout all their work, guiding children to acquire the essential social and emotional skills they need to succeed.

The sports coaching techniques and strong relationships prioritised by Hackney Boxing Academy have translated into high levels of attendance and engagement with learning.

And we’ve seen innovative curriculum design at Olive Academy in Thurrock which, like the very best alternative provision schools, holds high expectations for their pupils.

Everton Free School has partnered with Liverpool John Moores University to deliver a sports development and coaching degree for post-16 students.

And the Bridge AP Academy in Fulham is delivering the prestigious International Baccalaureate diploma for its sixth formers – thanks to additional funding from the local council.

The experts exist in this space to lead on system improvement. But there is far too much variation across the country in the money spent on these children, the data collected on them, and the quality of the education provided to them.

So in this report, we’ve made a few suggestions as to things that the government could put in place to support positive change. Here are just a few of them:

We need templates of good local systems of AP and an AP system improvement fund to replicate successful models where AP schools are supporting mainstream schools with behaviour, and mainstream schools are supporting AP schools to provide an aspirational curriculum.

We believe it is time for the government to act on its pledge to invest in an AP workforce programme, both to encourage experienced, qualified teachers to work in AP and to train existing AP staff.

Successful interventions from the AP innovation fund should be scaled up, and a new round launched for curriculum and in-school AP bases, which currently lack research evidence.

We are also recommending a review of the current AP funding system, culminating in a national fair funding formula for AP and SEND combined with a standardised funding delivery model to ensure equity between geographical areas and different types of school.

This should be combined with bespoke quality benchmarks for AP and service level agreements detailing what good practice looks like, and what it costs to provide it.

We believe that any child being educated in AP should obtain better outcomes than the same child would have achieved at their mainstream school. With better models of AP working effectively as part of the local education landscape, investment in the workforce, more accurate data and fair funding across the country, we will be a few steps closer to making this a reality for every child in AP.

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