Alternative Education: Best Practice in Practice

Pupil Referral Units

Local Authorities have maintained Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) to support and engage those students temporarily or permanently excluded or at risk of exclusion from traditional education providers for decades. These units are a form of alternative provision (AP). Pupils may be registered solely with the PRU or be dual registered, therefore spending some of the school week attending their mainstream school and the rest of the week at the PRU on a part-time basis. Options, however, are wide and there is a broad variety of other AP available to suit the needs of the pupil. These are provided by independent schools, further education colleges, charities and businesses.

Educational Excellence

The Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper (March 2016) set out the Government’s commitment to reforming alternative provision (AP) in order to deliver better outcomes for the pupils involved. This includes reducing the proportion of young people who, after they complete their education at 16, they do not become NEET- Not in Education, Employment or Training. Following the report, accountability arrangements changed so that a pupil’s mainstream school retains accountability for their educational outcomes. The school also now takes a lead role in commissioning the young person’s alternative provision. This includes the umbrella responsibility for those who have been permanently excluded. Schools will be provided with and have responsibility for the budgets from which the AP is funded for the pupil. The White Paper also proposed an innovation fund to test new approaches to support pupils who move directly from AP to post-16 education, with the explicit goal to reduce the number of pupils who become NEET post 16. There is also the appetite within the sector for exploring opportunities for social impact bonds and other innovative funding models.

There is significant evidence following studies in recent years that the ‘one-size fits all’ approach to alternative education provision is ineffective. Instead, the studies that the package or packages of support that are chosen for the individual pupil should reflect their particular needs and aspirations. Even where pupils share some characteristics, there is a benefit from a personalised package of support for each individual. This is particularly true where the pupil has a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Involving Young People And Their Families

The importance of involving young people and their families in referral decisions has recently been concluded as vital for a successful outcome. However, this rarely happens in reality. Where young people have little understanding of why they had been placed in AP and had been provided with little or no information before beginning their placement, young people and their families often feel powerless and alienated. The major issues for this group of people were surrounding the processes that were used to manage referrals, transfers and to monitor progress.

The most effective and engaging referral processes involved young people being visited at their existing school by the leaders of the AP or invited in for a meeting, accompanied by a parent/career and, possibly, another advocate. This enables the AP leaders to provide individual children with a bespoke, well-planned intervention, with positive- and realistic, unique goals for the individual. In all cases, success is increased when the pupil’s parents are engaged in and trust the process and the AP providers.

Pupil Input

Allowing an input from the pupil into decisions around their future, through a degree of autonomy and choice about the type of learning they will be engaged in and the environment which they will attend sees positive results. Building a community, engagement in a shared purpose helps the young person to build positive social relationships and secure their engagement in the education provision and therefore in the outcomes. Potentially, being engaged in the process and the decisions allows the young person to create a new start for themselves where they can become someone different, as opposed to continuing as the person that has to lead them to their present situation, ‘labelled’ by their peers and often playing up to the stereotyped person into which they have been pigeonholed.

It is key to success for the Alternative Provider to have a strong sense of the young person’s right to choose. With engagement in the decision making, the young person can acknowledge and agree with the expectations- and sanctions, if they chose not to participate. Where offered choices on feasible opportunities, the engagement with the provider and the activities is more likely to increase.

For example, in an Alternative Provision at the London Boxing Academy, discipline is strictly enforced but it is seen as critical that, at the start of each year, pupils are involved in establishing the rules themselves for their year ahead, for their own goals, for the rules of their peer group and the sanctions for non-engagement. In situations where rules are broken or goals missed, students benefit from an opportunity to explain their actions and negotiate agreements with staff regarding consequences.

Alternative Provision Focused Around Sport

There is a growing body of evidence that says that for many young people, an alternative provision focused around sport and the disciplines sports and sports leadership provide, provide an environment that leads to greater success than a classroom-based provision. A recent study tentatively concluded that “programs including an element of physical activity can facilitate the pro-social development of disaffected young people.” This can be particularly successful when a programme involves a relatively small group who have had input into its design.

At Triple Skillz, our philosophy is encompassed by many of the findings above. We create sports-based programmes with the input of the group and the individuals. We work hard to create opportunities for the individual young people to find their strengths and to have a fresh start when they join us. Our online portal provides the young person, the parents and the responsible school access to feedback in real time and ensures engagement of all factions in the goals setting and measurement of improvement of the young person. We encourage visits by potential pupils and their parents to our teaching environment and work hard to link pupils to suitable mentors within the provision.