Off-site education for children at risk of exclusion needs better monitoring

21 Jun 2011 10:53 AM

Alternative provision outside school, which is used to prevent exclusion and re-engage students in their education, should be better monitored by schools and pupil referral units so it can be used more effectively, according to an Ofsted report published today.

The report, ‘Alternative provision’, finds that in many cases staff visit infrequently or sometimes not at all to check on children’s progress. Often students spend much of their week away from school attending alternative, off-site provision. But there are currently very limited safeguards to ensure such provision is of good quality.

There is no requirement for the majority of alternative providers to register with any official body and no consistent arrangements to evaluate their quality. The report calls for alternative provision to be subject to tighter accountability.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said:

‘Alternative forms of education can bring huge benefits for many young people who are struggling in school or not attending regularly. It can encourage and even inspire them to learn. However, it is essential that this kind of provision is held properly accountable and is of good quality.

‘The best schools choose placements carefully for their students. They are clear about what the student should get out of that placement and then check to make sure she or he is making progress.

‘When these placements work well, young people have a programme of activities which allows them to gain confidence, skills and qualifications. They then build on these when they are back in mainstream education.’

The report shows that where alternative provision is selected carefully by schools and units, it supports and re-engages students in their curriculum and is valued by them. In these cases, inspectors saw staff visiting students regularly, building effectively on their successes, and intervening when things were not going well.

Some of the schools and units visited looked on alternative provision as separate from their own work and used it as a last resort for a challenging student. Evidence shows these were less effective at fitting placements into their students’ timetable and revealed poor arrangements for helping students to catch up with work.

The report highlights case studies of what good practice in alternative education looks like; for schools, pupil referral units and local authorities to emulate. It describes 14 and 15 year olds engaged in activities such as a successful motor mechanics course at a trade skills centre.

One girl with behavioural difficulties attending a placement in a nursery one day a week was one of 22 students in her year engaged in work placements ranging from learning to care for small animals to learning DJ and mixing skills at a music studio. This helped them to be more motivated in school and in turn to be more successful with their GCSE work.

One mother of a boy attending a trade skill workshop said; ‘Taking him out of school to do courses has made a real difference.’ She described how he took a photo of a brickwork arch that he had built as his final project, and took it straight home to frame it.

Another boy with a history of disaffection and aggression had a placement in a garage for a day a week, complemented by two half days at a specialist project for Level 1 BTEC in mechanics. He enjoyed being with the instructors who ‘treated him like an adult’. He was so successful the garage offered him an apprenticeship.

Don Smith, Headteacher at Paget High School, Burton on Trent, a school surveyed for the report, said:

‘Alternative provision always works most effectively when regular contact is maintained with the pupil and they still feel part of the school rather than becoming detached. Inclusivity is vital and at our school we believe it is always essential to continue working with families to support youngsters through challenging periods in their lives.’

Headteacher of Kingsmead Special School and pupil referral unit in Derby, Sue Bradley, who uses a wide range of full and part-time alternative provision, said:

‘We believe that our rigid quality assurance procedures, including a schedule of observation, regular monitoring visits and feedback from learners, has been the key driver to ensure that we maximise pupil progress.’

Chris Lee MBE, Head of Alternative Education provider, Motorvations, said:

‘The best place for young people is school. When schooling goes wrong for whatever reason, exclusion only adds to the problem. A young person must be re-engaged by structured alternative education provision.

‘Individual learning plans need to be put in place to meet what may be complex needs and hopefully re-integrate young people. If a young person can’t go back to school we still strive to give them opportunities to reach their potential and become valued members of society.’

Ofsted will consider how best to evaluate, during school inspections, appropriateness of any alternative placements being used and progress made by all students who attend such off-site provision.

The report recommends that the Department for Education (DfE) should consider requiring all alternative providers, whether in the private or voluntary sector, to register with them.

Local authorities should consider producing a database of alternative provision within the local area, and support partnerships of schools and units to ensure a coordinated approach to commissioning. They should ensure that all alternative provision used by local authority pupil referral units is of a suitable quality.

Schools, academies and pupil referral units should give more consideration to the desired outcomes of alternative provision, and select it accordingly. They should consider how the organisation of the curriculum ensures that students attending alternative provision do not fall behind and that the quality of what is provided is never less than could be provided at school.

Schools should also give appropriate written information about their students to the provider, including about any special needs, literacy and numeracy skills and social and behavioural skills. They should visit students at their provision regularly and sufficiently frequently to ensure their well-being and progress.

Schools should always agree with providers in advance how pupils’ progress will be tracked and achievements recorded, using the information to evaluate students’ progress and the suitability of placements. In some cases students do not gain accredited qualifications during their placement, so results are often not available as a measure of quality.

Notes for Editors

1. Alternative provision has been defined as education outside school, arranged by local authorities or schools. Schools can use such provision to try to prevent exclusions, or to re-engage students in their education. For the purpose of this survey, alternative provision was defined as something in which a young person participates as part of their regular timetable, away from the site of the school or the pupil referral unit and not led by school staff. Pupil referral units are themselves a form of alternative provision, but many students who are on the roll of a pupil referral unit also attend additional forms of alternative provision off-site.

Between September and December 2010, inspectors visited 23 schools and academies and 16 pupil referral units to explore their use of alternative provision. The schools and units were located in both urban and rural areas, varied in size and composition, and were only included in the survey if they were providing alternative provision to more than one pupil in KS 4. At their previous Ofsted inspection none had been found inadequate.

The survey visit was followed up with visits to 61 alternative provision placements that were being attended by students from the schools or units surveyed. The students’ placements were varied and included practical courses in motor mechanics or hairdressing, work placements in shops and old people’s homes, and experiences in music studios and on farms. The students surveyed spent between half a day and five days out of school each week attending such provision.

Alternative provision is a largely uninspected and unregulated sector. Beyond pupil referral units and other full-time provision, there is no requirement for the majority of alternative providers to register with any official body and no consistent arrangements to evaluate their quality. Of the 61 providers visited for the survey, only 17 were subject to any inspection regime.

Some students spend a significant proportion of their week away from their school or unit attending an alternative provision. In this survey 11 of the providers had never received a visit from a member of staff from the school or unit. Across the 39 schools and units surveyed, over 10% of students in Years 9–11 were attending alternative provision away from the site of their school or unit for at least part of each week. Occasionally, students were placed with an alternative provider full-time and played no part in school life.

2. The report can be found at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/100233.

3. Ofsted was created as the single inspectorate for children and learners in April 2007. Its care and education remit was intended to mirror the roles and responsibilities of children’s services departments in local authorities, and those of the relevant government department, now the Department for Education.

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6574 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.