Alternative provision and inclusion – is change on the way?

A few years ago when I started working for one of our clients who specialise in alternative provision, you could rarely find a piece of news coverage or recent research telling you much about alternative provision or pupil referral units in England. Now it seems a week doesn’t pass without a national media outlet producing a story about school exclusions and their perceived impact on society.

So why this change and why now? There are have been several influential campaigners and key pieces of work which have come together to push the issue to the top of the education agenda. I thought it would be helpful to give a whistle-stop tour of the some of the important work and campaigns that have shaped this new demand to reduce school exclusions:

  • Kiran Gill’s work around exclusions in England has had a huge and influential impact. The start of her work and project (The Difference) began with this IPPR report from October 2017: Making the difference: Breaking the link between school exclusion and social inclusion
  • In July 2018 The Education Select Committee produced a report, Forgotten children : alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions
    “Parents and pupils face a system which isn’t designed for their needs, too often being left to a Wild West of exclusions with too many pupils in AP who shouldn’t be there, and those who are there not receiving the right support or the early intervention needed to make a difference to their lives…” Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee
  • The Centre for Social Justice produced a report, Providing the alternative : How to transform social exclusion and the support that exists beyond  “Well considered AP can be appropriate and transformational for pupils who, for a number of reasons, need specialist support; AP should be viewed as an integral component of the education system – not, as is still too often the case, a peripheral adjunct. But the sector as a whole faces considerable challenges. The sector is a patchwork of varying quality… We lack a clear, and commonly recognised, framework for assessing what good AP looks like.”
  • In May 2019 the Children’s Commissioner released her report on exclusions – “the aim of this research was to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of children excluded, both officially and unofficially, from mainstream education. Whilst the research sought to understand the experiences of all children excluded from school, there was a particular focus on the experiences of those with SEND issues.”
  • The Department for Education released The Timpson Review of School Exclusion in May 2019 and made 30 recommendations to government, “The proposed reforms will support schools to intervene early to help a child before exclusion is necessary, improve alternative provision, as well as reducing incentives for schools to off-roll pupils.”
  • In November 2019, London Mayor Sadiq Khan sets up a taskforce with a £4.7 million fund to cut school exclusions in the capital.
  • Evening Standard’s £1m campaign to cut school exclusions launched in January 2020. “London secondary schools with exclusion rates higher than the national average are invited to apply for grants of up to £150,000 each, spread over three years, to develop on-site inclusion units.” Read all about it: www.standard.co.uk/topic/the-excluded

So what could all this research and campaigning mean for schools, MATs and AP schools (PRUs)?

  • More MATs could be pushed/ encouraged to open or take on an alternative provision/ nurture schools/ pupil referral units within their trust’s family of schools.
  • Local authority funding could be diverted to fund inclusion units within mainstream schools and academies in an effort to reduce permanent exclusion figures – reducing the number of AP/ PRU places commissioned by LAs.
  • More APs / PRUs could be commissioned to offer outreach and run inclusion units inside mainstream schools.
  • All signs are that the current government has no intention of removing headteachers’ right to exclude.
  • The way in which AP/ PRU places are funded across the country could be reformed. This could mean that more headteachers become AP commissioners and the funding is removed from local authority control.
  • Schools could be forced to include in their data the outcomes, results and progress of children they have excluded or removed from their school roll.
  • All alternative provision providers could be forced to be registered and inspected by Ofsted.

What to keep an eye on? 

It’s also worth having a look at the RSA’s new report launching this month (16 March 2020) Pinball Kids: Preventing school exclusions  “Over the last 18 months, the RSA’s Pinball Kids project has been exploring the underlying factors that lead to school exclusions, and looking to learn from best practice to support those students most at risk.”

The Number Five Partnership offers strategic media monitoring for academies, schools and trusts. This can provide crucial information for senior leaders shaping their trust or school’s growth and development strategies. The Number Five Partnership also has expertise in governance of alternative provision schools and academies. Please get in touch if you would like to know more…

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