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What the evidence says about the 13 crucial areas for quality in Alternative Provision

with Dennis Simms, IntegratED Hub Lead

The SEND Review Green Paper places great emphasis on including alternative provision within a "single system" with mainstream and special schools. The DfE want to create a more stable funding stream for AP to improve quality provision, rather than having money move with the child as they enter and leave an AP, possibly after just a few terms.

But funding isn't the only issue with AP quality. The IntegratED partnership, which aims to reduce preventable school exclusions and improve the education for excluded children, identifies "vast inconsistencies in quality across the sector and some AP pupils do not receive the high-quality education and support they require and deserve."  What is best practice, and indeed, what can mainstream schools learn?

IntegratED has created a new holistic AP Quality Toolkit, to facilitate greater collaboration and a shared consensus of what good quality AP looks like. But when you read it, it looks to us like something that every educator should read, wherever they work because what's good for children in AP, is good for every child - and who knows, if every school took it up, it may result in fewer children needing Alternative Provision to start off with.

Dennis Simms is a former AP headteacher and the IntegratED Hub Lead at the Centre for Social Justice. He's written for us about the toolkit and we hope you'll share it as widely as possible.

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Why our AP Quality Toolkit can transform practice, by Dennis Sims, IntegratED

Every year thousands of pupils find themselves in alternative provision (AP). In 2021, there were at least 32,083 pupils educated across at least 761 alternative provision settings and yet alternative provision continues to be a part of the education system that most know little about. 

AP supports and educates pupils who have been excluded from school, are at risk of exclusion or who, for another reason, require an alternative form of education. These pupils include those with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) and those who have encountered adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that have impacted their ability to succeed in mainstream school environments. 

Pupils in AP are amongst those with the highest levels of need and most significant vulnerabilities in the country. 81% of pupils in alternative provision (AP) are on the SEND (special educational needs and disability) register, which is almost six times more than in mainstream schools. Almost half (47%) of pupils in AP are eligible for free school meals (FSM) compared to 13.6% of their mainstream peers. The significant scale and extent of pupils’ needs in the AP sector has also been compounded by disruption to learning and support caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dennis Simms

In alternative provision settings across the country, there is some fantastic work being done. But there are also vast inconsistencies in AP practice and performance and several cold spots, where pupils have a poor-to-zero chance of receiving a quality education. There are also significant data and evidence gaps that impede efforts to truly understand current practice and make meaningful and sustainable system improvement.

That it is impossible to educate a pupil whose basic needs are not being met. In some cases, students are supported by being given access to food, clothing, mental health support and quite simply a safe place to be. As emotional wellbeing is a precondition for learning, then it is essential that pupils experience a sense of belonging with adults who know them best at school.
AP Leaders said...

The uniqueness of Alternative Provision

When discussing alternative provision, it's important to understand the uniqueness of the AP sector and how schools and providers operate. AP schools and providers often perform different functions and roles within local education ecosystems. For example, many offer long term placements, others focus on short term placements designed to prepare pupils to return to mainstream education, and some provide outreach services to mainstream schools to help pupils stay in school. Most AP settings fulfil a combination of functions and adapt their provision to needs as they arise in their area.

When pupils start and leave AP is also unique. Typically, pupils do not start in year 7 and finish their studies in year 11. Instead, pupils can move into AP settings at any age and at any point in the year. Similarly, some pupils move back out of AP before the end of year 11, often transitioning back to mainstream schools or to specialist settings. AP schools and providers also have differing budgets, unstable funding and variances in local support services available to them. 

The complexity of pupil need, combined with the nuanced way in which AP schools and providers operate, means the traditional frameworks and barometers used to evaluate quality and measure success in mainstream education are insufficient.

The SEND and AP Review stated, ‘The information we currently publish in ‘Compare School and College Performance’ does not include alternative provision schools and existing measures of performance do not account for the progress which can be made in a short time by this fluid cohort or the success of providers in reintegrating the children and young people back into mainstream schools.’

That the reality is that all too often they receive insufficient or outdated information about pupils' prior progress, family context and needs profiles&. Key information relating to safeguarding, mental health or special needs are not always shared in appropriate detail. Some also shared concerns that in some cases commissioners, such as local schools, may intentionally omit information from referral forms in an effort to increase a pupil's prospects of gaining a dual-registration place in AP.
AP Leaders said...

What does good quality AP look like?

At the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and IntegratED, we have been involved in AP research since 2018. Two years ago, as part of the IntegratED programme, we set out on a mission to answer the question: ‘What are the characteristics of good quality alternative provision?

During this project, we worked extensively with the AP sector and explored a variety of approaches to evaluating and improving AP quality. We sought out examples of good practice and ran pilots in five areas of the country (Blackpool, Tameside, Sheffield, Gloucestershire and Plymouth).

Our findings and recommendations have been recently published in the form of the AP Quality Toolkit. This report represents the most viable and comprehensive approach ever developed to evaluate and improve AP quality.

Some of our pupils have significant responsibilities at home, such as caring for younger siblings, others may have the opportunity to work with older friends or familv members and some are at risk of missing school due to being encouraged to participate in anti-social behaviour or due to criminal exploitation. A safe and welcoming school environment with a tailored curriculum and an exciting enrichment programme, as well as positive relationships with members of staff, can create a 'pull factor' for pupils to attend school. When pupils attend school and feel a sense of enjoyment and achievement, it increases their appetite for learning and provides a greater desire to attend school - thus reinforcing a positive attendance and engagement cycle.
AP Leaders said...

About the AP Quality Toolkit

The foreword is co-signed by Mark Vickers MBE, Cath Kitchen OBE, Robert Gasson, Sarah Johnson, Tim Morfin, and Janice Cahill OBE. Our evidence-based approach has been endorsed by over 100 organisations/individuals working in and around the AP sector, including 10 Multi-Academy Trusts, 11 local councils, and 47 AP settings.

The toolkit identifies 13 quality areas, separated into three categories of community, curriculum and currency. They include all the important aspects of AP that impact pupils’ experience, education, and outcomes. You can read the detail in the Toolkit.

  • Community
  1. Workforce development and wellbeing
  2. Home and family engagement
  3. Partnership working:
    • Local authority
    • Mainstream schools
    • External alternative providers
    • Other agencies
  4. Research and innovation
  • Curriculum
  1. Pupil induction
  2. Attendance and engagement
  3. Supporting pupils’ needs:
    • Literacy
    • Special educational needs and disability (SEND)
    • Health and wellbeing
  4. Quality of education
  • Currency
  1. Personal development
  2. Qualifications
  3. Assessment of need
  4. Appropriate transition:
    • Mainstream school
    • Other Alternative Provision
    • Specialist provision
  5. Post-16 destinations

The recommendation of ‘Implementing the AP Quality Toolkit’ is aimed at the DfE, Ofsted, local authorities, AP schools and providers, commissioners of AP and mainstream schools that have in-school AP.

That it is crucially important to 'get under the skin' of a pupils' education journey. They described that best way to do this is through conversations with parents.
AP Leaders said...

What will implementing the AP Quality Toolkit achieve?

The toolkit provides a comprehensive framework, shared understanding and common vocabulary for AP quality at national, local and individual levels. We believe that the AP Quality Toolkit has the power to transform the way AP quality is understood, evaluated and improved and should be adopted by all stakeholders.

Through the implementation of the AP Quality Toolkit, policymakers, local authorities and AP leaders can work based on a shared consensus of the characteristics of good quality AP and can develop strategies which lead to genuine and sustainable improvements for pupils. 

Read the AP Quality Toolkit to find out more about our pilot programmes, recommendations and the 13 quality areas.

They often find correlations between pupils' low literacy levels, their inability to access a mainstream curriculum and the subsequent manifestation of the types of negative behaviours which resulted in them being excluded.
AP Leaders said...
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About Dennis

Dennis Simms is a former alternative provision headteacher from the East Midlands. He is the IntegratED Hub Lead at the Centre for Social Justice, Chief Executive Officer of Simms Coaching and Consultancy and Co-chair of Heads Forward (a network which supports circa 100 Headteachers to work collaboratively, share best practice and find solutions).

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