“A good PRU delivers a lot of love and a little magic into the lives of those who have very frequently, and sadly, experienced too little of either.”
78.AP is diverse and it would not be appropriate to set a one-size-fits-all template for what good alternative provision looks like, but in this chapter we set out some of the issues and challenges that alternative provision faces and highlight good practice. We have heard from many outstanding providers, teachers, headteachers and local authorities who offer the very best of provision to their pupils. They talk about providing supportive, flexible environments that meet individual needs and allow pupils to flourish. No provision that we have heard from or visited is the same, but no pupil is the same. There is no template for good AP, but the challenge that we set is providing consistently good AP to all pupils no matter where they are living.
79.Learning Support Units (LSUs) were introduced in schools from 1999 as part of the Excellence in Cities partnerships and Education Action Zone partnerships. Funding was provided to schools with the intention to improve behaviour and reduce exclusion. Ofsted found that the while a quarter of units didn’t help pupils learn effectively, it did find that most LSUs were successful in reducing exclusions and promoting inclusion.
80.There is a lack of agreement about whether in-school alternatives to alternative provision are increasing or decreasing. Some told us that schools were using in-school provision more, in many cases the reason being funding pressures, while other witnesses said that funding pressures and a focus on Progress 8 were driving schools to reduce their in-school provision. Two large providers of alternative provision, Nacro and YMCA Training, both argue that in-house provision may not be best for the pupil, and Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service told us that it is opposed to in-school options for pupils with medical needs, particularly those with mental health needs.
81.We heard about the importance of in-school alternatives needing to be good quality, but we also heard that in many cases this is not the case. Dr Val Gillies, Professor of Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Westminster, told us that:
Where there is that segregated model, of course they are not keeping up with what is going on in the classroom. The provision in terms of education can sometimes be very poor. They may be in a unit where there are not any trained teachers, and even where the teachers are coming into the unit, that is usually given to supply teachers. It does not tend to be a very popular job. Teachers do not want to go into the unit and teach them, so they do not have an opportunity to build a relationship with the teachers in the first place. The longer they are in those units, the harder it is then to reintegrate back in to mainstream.
82.Many of the young people we spoke to talked about being put in isolation in mainstream school for large parts of academic years. Some of the pupils were put in isolation for behavioural reasons, while others were removed from the classroom for other reasons, including because they were victims of bullying. The young people told us about the impact that isolation had on them. One young person who was isolated because they had been bullied told us that “With that kind of support, I gave up with the school system—I chose not to go.” Another described their experience of learning: “There were a lot of different people in the isolation room that I was put in, but it was a box, essentially. [ … ]They would give you a textbook to copy from. There would be no real learning.” We were also told by a young person with experience of alternative provision about their experience of isolation in mainstream school:
At first, I felt like I had been naughty and was in trouble, but I obviously couldn’t work out what I’d done. They changed my time for eating my dinner. I would go and eat my dinner before everyone else even started theirs. I was isolated not just from my lessons but from everyone completely. It makes you feel bad. You feel like you’re not going to have friends. Even though I was in a very bad situation at the time, I was still never allowed that freedom.
83.Diana Robinson raised concerns about the move towards a ‘sin bin’ approach:
I don’t think this is the ‘in-school alternatives’ being proposed in this question. Instead I think the ‘sin-bin’ or ‘seclusion room’ is being proposed. I have witnessed the awful environment of such facilities, where the pupil is held in isolation with no work or intervention to address whatever ‘sin’ had led him or her to be placed there. It does not provide education, but punishment.
84.However, we were told about successful interventions that are delivered in-house, using inclusion style models. Drew Povey, Headteacher of Harrop Fold school in Manchester, told us that his school hadn’t excluded a pupil in over ten years. He told us that Harrop Fold has three levels of intervention rooms, and described the success of this model using the example of a pupil called Kodie:
Her progress was phenomenal. She did have her challenges at school and I am absolutely certain in many other settings she would have been permanently excluded. But we believed that she could turn a corner. We have tiers of provision within the school that are slightly different from what you might see elsewhere and it is perfect for our young people. We got Kodie through to the end. She did not break any records when it came to exam results, but she did well and she went on to college. She will be coming back to Harrop to train as an apprentice as a teaching assistant.
Drew Povey also told us that his school’s approach also included a mindset shift, moving from saying that they “cannot” exclude, to exclusion being something that they “do not” do.
85.We also heard that in-school alternatives can also have other protective benefits. Dr Val Gillies told us about the power of mentors:
They are a great resource and they are the first to go in terms of education cuts at the moment, but because teachers are so pressured they often do not have an opportunity to get to know young people or understand the various different challenges that they might be dealing with, so mentors can operate as a really important bridge.
We also heard that in-house AP maintains a learner’s sense of connectivity with the school, although we are concerned that this would only be the case where in-house provision is of good quality.
86.In many cases, high quality in-school alternatives can be used to prevent exclusion and provide support to pupils. In-school alternatives will not be the right provision for some pupils, and where they are poorly set up, they can cause damage to pupils and cause more harm than good.
87.Government should collect best practice and provide dedicated resources and guidance to schools to improve behaviour and reduce exclusion and develop appropriately resourced Learning Support Units. This guidance should include that all LSUs are staffed by at least one qualified teacher. The Government should also investigate the practice of placing students in isolation units.
89.The Department for Education recognises the quality of teaching as the single biggest factor influencing the children’s classroom experience. This is true of all provisions, and should be true for all pupils. We were told by one young person:
The teachers at my school, in my final year of school, sat down with me at the start of the year, because they had known that I had fallen behind from not going in and being in isolation. They sat down with me and said, “What can you do? What do you feel comfortable with? Is there anything that we need to work on?” They did listen to me with that, but they would also speak to me. They would find ways of trying to help you remember. If you wanted extra work, they would give it to you. They would say, “I’d support you no matter what.”
90.82% of teachers in all AP providers have qualified teacher status (QTS). 60% of teachers in AP free schools are qualified, compared to 84% of teachers in PRUs. 95% of teachers in mainstream schools have QTS. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, the number of vacancies in the maintained AP and special sector has nearly trebled since 2011. Vacancies are 100–150% higher than in mainstream secondary schools.
91.Alternative provision needs high quality teachers. Professor David Berridge told us:
These children need the best teachers. These children need the most skilled and the most dedicated teachers. Traditionally in England, the best teachers have wanted to work with the high flyers that may be the most academically rewarding and enriching, but how we can create a system that incentivises the best teachers to go to the areas where they are needed?
However, as well as issues with qualified teachers, a child educated in a special or AP schools is twice as likely as a mainstream pupil to be taught by a supply teacher. We heard that a workforce staffed by supply teachers can have an impact on the development of relationships between staff and pupils, which is necessary for successful teaching and behaviour management.
92.Witnesses raised issues about the quality of teaching in alternative provision, in part linked to poor recruitment, but also linked to misconceptions about the sector. Joanne Southby, Executive Head at London South East Academies Trust, told us:
Potential candidates can be attracted for the wrong reasons including misunderstanding that PRUs are schools and teachers will be equally accountable for outcomes and progress as they would in any mainstream environment. Sometimes, potential teachers assume that teaching in a PRU would be “easier” as less might be expected of pupils and parents’ evenings/extra-curricular activities non-existent. This can lead to reduced fields of quality candidates or unsuitable appointments which result in disrupted education for pupils due to staff absence, capability processes and higher turnover. Committed staff in PRUs have high retention, but securing them in the first place can be difficult.
93.IPPR also found that in 80% of PRUs’ Ofsted inspections that it analysed, low expectations or the quality of teaching and learning were identified as an area of improvement. Concerns have been raised about the lack of subject specialists in AP, which has an impact on the curriculum that can be offered, but also the workload of teachers who are experts in their subject. Managing the behaviour of pupils is clearly an important part of the role of teachers in AP, however Kevin Courtney told us:
In lots of places we are starting to think what you need on the behavioural management side of it is somebody who is good with the kids. You need that but you also need the expertise of a teacher. You need qualified teachers at the heart of the system
94.Some schools are overcoming the recruitment challenges, and training teachers in innovative ways. In Peterborough, the Executive Headteacher delivers training to PGCE students and all trainees have a placement within the Pupil Referral Service. Acorn Academy Cornwall is developing the Multi-Academy Trust as a teaching school and is a partner in the delivery of Initial Teacher Training through local partnerships. Education Links said that it and other providers are moving to ‘grow their own’, whereby they train unqualified teachers or classroom assistants. However, the National Education Union raised concerns about the appropriateness of PRUs for initial teacher training, saying that it is “simply inappropriate to have emerging teacher trainees working with the most vulnerable children and young people. Equally, it is unfair for trainee teachers to receive initial training in such environments, ultimately having an adverse effect on their professional development.”
95.Teaching in alternative provision should be held in high regard, and attract the highest quality leaders and teachers. However, alternative provision is clearly not seen as a prospective career choice for the most talented teachers. This is likely to be down to a lack of professional development opportunities and also proper understanding of the challenges and rewards of working in alternative provision.
96.All trainee teachers, in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status, should be required to undertake a placement outside of mainstream education, for example in a special school or in alternative provision.
97.When there are challenges like recruitment issues, unqualified teachers and a pupil cohort that is transient and with high needs, leadership is crucial. However, according to The Difference, vacancies in leadership roles have more than doubled in the AP and special school sector between 2011 and 2016. Kiran Gill told us:
The challenge that we have is we also have large leadership vacancies in alternative provision, so we need to get people in who can do that inspirational training for younger, unqualified and trainee teachers. At the moment, the latest reviews we have into continuous professional development on alternative provision show that there isn’t a lot out there and that this sector is often quite isolated from the developments that are happening in the mainstream sector.
98.In order to address these challenges, The Difference programme will recruit teachers with a minimum of three years’ teaching experience and at least middle-leadership experience. These teachers will take on leadership roles in PRUs before returning to mainstream schools in leadership roles, with the expectation of disseminating best practice and thereby reducing exclusions. This practice of cross-fertilisation of knowledge between sectors already happens in other countries in the UK, where exclusion rates are much lower. In 2016/17 one pupil in Scotland was permanently excluded. In 2015/16, five pupils in Scotland were permanently excluded. This equates to 0.0007% of the school population. This compares to 6,685, or 0.8% of the school population in England. This was further reflected by Dr Gillooly, Head of Strategic Development & Innovation at the Scottish charity Includem who told us:
[Exclusions] are reducing. There are fewer exclusions, and the length of period of exclusion is reducing. There are ways that schools can look at alternatives for young people. It is possible, for instance, to come to an agreement within a local authority that a child will attend another school within the local authority for a period of time, but there is always the presumption that they will be reintegrated back into that original school where at all possible. These situations are looked at and monitored, so that presumption of mainstreaming and presumption of inclusion is absolutely running through all of the practice around how we deal with challenging behaviour.
99.Paul Devereux, a Head of Hospital and Hospital Outreach Education but submitting evidence in a personal capacity, described how supply teachers often teach pupil with medical needs, and supply staff lack access to good quality training, which means that their understanding of the curriculum can be behind current standards. More broadly, we heard that there are challenges for schools having to provide subject knowledge training when teachers are teaching outside of their specialism, as well as broader skills needed for the setting. We were told that schools can find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: much as they would wish to allow their staff to attend training, the often small size of provision, and the need for high levels of staffing, means that the practicalities of releasing staff is difficult to accommodate. This training is important to ensure that staff are kept up to date with training, particularly as pupils arriving in AP can present with high risk behaviours.
100.When we spoke to pupils in alternative provision, they told us that they valued the relationship that they have with their teachers. They felt that teachers building relationships with pupils is not possible in mainstream schools. We particularly noted the language they used: one young person likened their school to a family, while another young person talked about their “school mummy.” One young person from alternative provision told us why having that relationship with teachers was important:
they understand that maybe somebody is having a giddy day or a depressed day, or they’re very tired, or a bit anxious, and then they will work around that. So it’s easier for you to work when you know that they know what you’re going through, and it’s understanding, and then you can have a relationship with them.
101.When asked if they feel that there are areas of the curriculum that they feel that they miss out on, they didn’t agree, instead talking about the different subjects that they do get to study, like media, sociology and citizenship. One young person who attended AP for medical reasons talked about taking fewer GCSEs being a deliberate choice, and how the decision was made to focus on maths and English as those subjects would best help them in the future. There was a recognition that sometimes a smaller provision will not offer the wide choice that a mainstream school would, and that the timing of their arrival in AP could affect their subject choices:
But there would be subjects like science which we could be missing out on, because students join late year, so I could have been here since Year 8 but some have joined from Year 10 or 11, and that could affect my education as well, because it’s joining in late. So we have to start everything all over again from 15, if we missed out on something. That’s the only poor thing about alternative provision, but other than that you take literally everything that mainstream school does, or my school does anyway, and you get treated nearly the same.
We also heard from one young person that they appreciated the classes where they were taught how to control their emotions and well-being and felt that it helped them.
102.However, while young people did not seem worried that they were missing out on aspects of the curriculum, we also heard concerns about the curriculum on offer. Written evidence echoed the young people’s views that small provision can find it challenging to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. Other concerns included insufficient stretch in the curriculum, and only low qualifications on offer, which can result in pupils being unable to progress to further study at college. We were told that the most effective alternative provision offers a broad and balanced curriculum that combines academic subjects with vocational options, along with teachers having high expectations for their pupils.
103.Some providers of AP told us about the outreach that they do with schools, giving support and advice to mainstream schools. One mainstream school also told us that it provides inclusion support. Many alternative providers have significant pastoral staffing, including psychotherapists, counsellors, educational psychologists. Many are significantly aware of the many vulnerabilities that the cohort of children have, and can assess and co-ordinate support.
104.We heard that some alternative providers build partnerships with other schools and services, which provides support and expertise to pupils that the providers alone cannot provide. However, we think that it appears that this can often be one-sided and relies on alternative providers reaching out to mainstream schools. We are also concerned that this perpetuates an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and alternative provision being seen as a ‘sin-bin’ where only badly behaved pupils learn and failed teachers work. We consider that the work by The Difference is a step towards improving relations between mainstream schools and alternative provision.
105.Unregistered provision is often used as alternative provision. It is so called because it is not required to be registered with the Department for Education. Schools that are unregistered but required to be registered are operating illegally. Schools must register if they provide full time education for five or more pupils of compulsory school age, or one or more pupils of compulsory school age with an Education Health and Care plan or one or more pupils of compulsory school age who are looked after by the local authority. There is no legal definition of ‘full time’. However, the Department for Education clarified that they would consider an establishment that is open during the day and for more than 18 hours a week to be providing full time education. Providers that are registered with the Department are required to be inspected and this will either be by Ofsted, or an approved independent inspectorate. The Difference states that while local authorities are required to keep a register of alternative providers, even if they are unregistered, in many cases the local authority registers were partial and not validated.
106.Many unregistered providers offer a valuable service to pupils and schools, and often offer vocational options or creativity and flexibility that is needed by pupils. However, we were told that the quality of education and pastoral support offered by these providers is variable, and in many cases poor.
107.We recognise that there are many excellent unregistered providers and commissioning schools that have robust quality assurance processes. However, given what we have heard in paragraphs 60 and 66 about the lack of oversight that there can be when schools themselves commission alternative provision for pupils, we are concerned that there are pupils who are attending unregistered provision for substantial parts of their education and being put at risk of harm as well as receiving poor quality education. Sue Morris-King from Ofsted told us:
When we see pupils going out for just one day a week to something like motor mechanics that they find very engaging, that probably would not lend itself to any kind of registration or inspection. We look at that through our section 5 inspections and we hold the school or PRU to account there. However, there is a big gap between where we are now and all the unregistered providers where pupils can go for four and possibly five days a week, if they go to two different places, and nobody inspects it.
Despite the lack of consensus around the issue of registration of provision, there was agreement that children should be in safe and high-quality provision. Some argued that all alternative provision should be registered. Others suggested that regulation, but not registration, could be a way forward. David Whitaker, from the Headteachers’ Roundtable, told us
One of the problems with the system is that if everybody has to make a significant shift to be registered, we might lose some really great providers who are working with small numbers of children, who are doing some part-time, who are doing it really well. Some of them are reluctant to turn themselves into schools and I think there should be a more graduated approach to that.
108.We recognise that requiring provision to register could be burdensome and that ASCL has said that some valuable provision could be lost. We have also been told that there are providers that want to be registered but current guidelines means that they are unable to do so.
109.We do not consider that there are sufficient checks on unregistered providers. If pupils are placed in unregistered provision, without sufficient oversight, their education and safety is put at risk. We are not convinced that the quality and consistency of oversight is enough not to require there to be registration and regulation across the sector.
110.No pupil should be educated in unregistered provision for more than two days a week. The Government, Ofsted and independent school inspectorates should consider how this may affect different forms of alternative provision so that where providers want to accept pupils for more than two days a week, they are able to register and be subject to a suitable inspection and regulation regime. Schools that commission any alternative provision should be responsible for the quality of that provision.
111.We were fortunate to visit and take evidence from high quality provision and meet with pupils who are clearly thriving in their alternative provision. However, we are concerned that there are too many barriers to alternative provision offering the type of high quality education we would expect pupils to be able to benefit from. We recognise that the very nature of alternative provision, often offering flexible, short-notice school places for vulnerable, disruptive and/or disengaged pupils, can often make providing this high-quality provision challenging. We are encouraged where we see providers overcoming this creatively, by working collaboratively and looking for options that enable them to support pupils holistically and provide them with a broad and balanced educational experience. However, the onus to collaborate should not rest with alternative providers. All schools have a responsibility to reach out to support the pupils in their community.
112.Alternative provision should be seen as part of a suite of options that schools have at their disposal, and this should extend beyond school places. Mainstream schools should utilise the expertise of alternative provision schools and actively seek their advice. Alternative provision will have specific expertise that mainstream schools will benefit from, just as mainstream schools will have expertise that alternative providers will benefit from. Sharing of expertise will benefit pupils and teachers in all schools and help to dispel the stigma and myths about alternative provision.
113.Mainstream schools should be more proactive in their engagement with alternative provision. All mainstream schools should be ‘buddied’ with an alternative provision school to share expertise and offer alternative provision teachers and pupils opportunities to access teaching and learning opportunities.
119 The Difference () para 39
120 Ofsted, Excellence in Cities and Education Action Zones: management and impact, May 2003, p 58
121 YMCA Training () para 26; Nacro () para 5.1; ADCS () para 5
122 London South East Academies Trust () para 53; ASCL () para 16; Mrs Lorraine Thompson () para 9; SSCYP () para 24
123 Nacro () para 5.1; YMCA Training () para 26
124 Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service () paras 26a–d
125 Ms Joanne Southby () para 19
127 Young person with experience of alternative provision
128 Young person with experience of alternative provision
129 Young person with experience of alternative provision
130 Ms Diana Robinson () para 5.3
135 ADCS () para 5
137 Young person with experience of alternative provision
138 DfE () para 44
141 The Difference () para 16
142 Ms Joanne Southby () para 10
144 NEU () para 23
146 Peterborough Pupil Referral Service () para 5.1.1
147 Acorn Academy Cornwall () paras 6.1–6.2
148 Education Links () para 11
149 NEU () para 24
150 The Difference () para 19
154 “” TES, January 2018
155 “”, TES, March 2018
157 Mr Paul Devereux () para 11
158 Essex County Council () para 2.2
159 Ms Joanne Southby () para 12
160 Young people with experience of alternative provision
161 Young person with experience of alternative provision
162 Young person with experience of alternative provision
163 Young person with experience of alternative provision
164 Young person with experience of alternative provision
165 Young people with experience of alternative provision
166 Young person with experience of alternative provision
167 Young person with experience of alternative provision
168 Young person with experience of alternative provision
169 Young person with experience of alternative provision
170 Essex County Council () para 2.2; Headteachers’ Roundtable () para 3.1
171 Headteachers’ Roundtable () para 3.1
172 Office of the Children’s Commissioner () para 13
173 NEU () para 27; Ms Joanne Southby () para 15
174 TBAP Multi Academy Trust () para 6.1–6.2; Acorn Academy Cornwall () para 5.3; Hospital and Outreach Education () paras 15–16; Leyland St. James’ CE (Aided) Primary School Inclusion Services () para 2.1
175 AP Network () para 2.1
176 Association of School and College Leaders () para 38; NAHT () para 29; Essex County Council () para 2.2
177 , June 2018, p 3
178 The Difference () para 52
179 Association of Youth Offending Team Managers () para 9; SSCYP () para 27
180 Essex County Council () paras 5.1–5.2; London South East Academies Trust () para 58
181 Pavilion Study Centre () paras 26–29
183 The Limes College () para 31; Mrs Lorraine Thompson () para 11b
184 Nacro () para 6.1; ASCL () para 64
186 ASCL () para 64
187 Red Balloon Learner Centre Group () paras 13–20
Published: 25 July 2018