“He has done so much to prepare him for the outside world. With that confidence and self-esteem, he is now just set through. [ … ] He has a lot of options to look at, where 12 months ago he would never even have thought of anything. They have prepared my son for the outside world.”
Parent of a pupil with experience of alternative provision
114.Pupils in alternative provision should be able to access both GCSEs and technical qualifications. However, we were told that “1% of children in alternative provision get five good GCSEs with English and maths but 99% do not”.188 Further evidence told a more nuanced story of the 1% figure and the focus on measuring outcomes by five good GCSEs, the same as their peers.189 The 1% figure refers only to pupils who are single-registered at their alternative provision; most pupils are dual-registered and therefore their exam grades count towards the performance of their mainstream school.190 Providers told us that pupils in AP were unlikely to achieve 5 A*-Cs at GCSE whether they were in mainstream or in alternative provision.191
115.In reporting outcomes by five good GCSEs, there is no recognition of the challenges that alternative provision and its pupils must overcome in order to achieve good exam results. We were told that it is rare for pupils to arrive with evidence of past work;192 that there are challenges when pupils have been studying a number of different exam board syllabi;193 and that schools often take pupils late into their key stage 4 journey.194 Alternative providers have to spend time addressing issues such as poor attendance, disengagement, building relationships with families and referring pupils for assessments for unmet needs before they can begin to focus on academic education.195
116.Providers pointed out the range of successes that their pupils have achieved, even if they are not academic. We have also heard from and met pupils who are now better able to manage their anxiety or anger; are regular school attenders; are more confident and engaged with learning; and are on high quality post-16 courses or in jobs. The Education Support Centre in Hertfordshire told us:
Ex-students return to share with us their success in life such as a local postman, an owner of a barber’s shop, a blind football referee at the 2012 Olympics, an emergency services worker, a carpenter to name a few.196
117.Transition or return to mainstream can also be a successful outcome, and one that some providers work towards, particularly at key stage 3. However, as discussed in paragraphs 70 and 71, we heard that reintegration is often not a possible outcome for pupils, with some schools being reluctant to reintegrate pupils.197 Sue Morris-King, a senior Her Majesty’s Inspector at Ofsted told us:
Reintegration is crucial, but what we are often seeing is pupils who are in pupil referral units for the long term and are not going back into the mainstream. They can spend three, four or even more years in full-time alternative provision.198
Where pupils are reintegrated without appropriate support, schools can struggle to keep pupils in their school, and they are likely to return to alternative provision, often through permanent exclusion.199 Some alternative provision offers outreach to help support pupils as they reintegrate back to mainstream provision.200
118.Fundamentally, outcomes for children in AP are not good enough and their successes and achievements often go unrecognised. Their outcomes are currently judged against mainstream performance measures and do not take into consideration the circumstances that have led pupils to be educated in alternative provision and the challenges that both pupils and teachers face. Acknowledging these challenging circumstances and their vulnerabilities should not mean that schools are able to make excuses for poor performance and all alternative providers must have high expectations for their pupils. We welcome the Government’s commitment to create a bespoke performance framework for AP and the acknowledgment by the Minister that “when we come to assess alternative provision, it needs to be more than just the A to C figure, the GCSE results. It does also need to be things like attendance, behaviour and so on; all those pastoral non-qualification-related issues.”201
119.This framework should take into account the fragmented educational journey that these pupils will have had, and enable schools to demonstrate all the achievements of their pupils. We urge the Government to ensure that it uses the very broadest of measures, including softer skills that pupils have developed as well as harder outcomes like apprenticeship take up.
120.94% of Year 11 pupils from a mainstream or special school go on to a sustained education or employment or training destination,202 compared to 57% from alternative provision.203 Pupils from AP can face limited choices about where they can go on to based on the qualifications they achieved, or didn’t achieve, at AP,204 or their educational histories.205 Pupils who move on from AP to college can struggle to integrate as the college is too large and presents challenges that pupils are unable to navigate and cope with.206
It is important, when we are thinking about post-16: for these young people, that the transition is often very, very difficult for them. If they are coming from an alternative provider—coming from a PRU or a small special school—into a huge college they can find that transition very difficult. Sometimes we find they get the college place but don’t manage to stay once they lose the really good support from their PRU or alternative provision.207
Some providers of alternative provision extend their support to pupils beyond Year 11 to help them with their transition to post-16 education, to help pupils to transition successfully.208
121.Alternative provision is not funded post-16, and the statutory duty on a local authority to provide education to pupils who are too ill to attend school also only extends to 16, despite the participation age having been raised to 18. However, some providers argue that there is a case for post-16 provision. Wac Arts College told us:
There are very few providers of alternative provision for post 16 students. However our experience is that provision such as ours meets a very specific need. Our pre 16 students have all had difficult experiences in secondary school and as a result many under-achieve at GCSE. Offering them continuity between the pre and post 16 phases gives them the opportunity to recover from that under-achievement in a familiar and secure environment.
There are students who simply are not ready at 16 to face the challenges of a large and relatively impersonal college or school. We believe, having worked with our students for more than three years, that there is a place in the system for our kind of provision.209
122.The Minister told us:
It is a power local authorities have. It is not a duty. The duty is to provide alternative provision for those of compulsory school age to 16. There are 49 PRUs, alternative settings, that do have provision beyond the age of 16, but that is a very small number compared to total provision settings. I am sure this is something that we will look at, in terms of the alternative provision review.210
123.It is extraordinary that the increase in the participation age was not accompanied by statutory duties to provide post-16 alternative provision. Pupils neither stop being ill at 16, nor do they stop being in need of additional support that would enable them to access education. These pupils are being denied access to post-16 education because the system is not designed or funded to accommodate their additional needs. There is a clear will in the sector to provide post-16 education to pupils in alternative provision, and a clear need on the part of pupils.
124.Given the increase in participation age to 18, the Government must allocate resources to ensure that local authorities and providers can provide post-16 support to pupils, either in the form of outreach and support to colleges or by providing their own post-16 alternative provision.
202 To count as a ‘sustained’ destination, the young person has to be participating for ‘two terms’ or ‘six months’ the following academic year – the period considered is October to March.
203 DfE, Destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 students, England, 2015/16, October 2017, p 21
208 Ms Joanne Southby (ALT 78) para 16; The CE Academy (ALT 14) para 22; Mr David Holloway OBE (ALT 47) para 9; London East Alternative Provision (ALT 25) para 22
Published: 25 July 2018