Institute of Education


IOE research examines the role of alternative provision

22 October 2018

Mainstream schools and alternative provision (AP) providers both want better collaboration to improve the sector, a report co-written by UCL Institute of Education's (IOE) Prof Martin Mills reveals.

Pupils writing notes in exercise books in a classroom

Alternative provision is education for pupils who would not otherwise be able to receive suitable education because of exclusion, illness or other reasons.

Based on rapid evidence assessment, telephone interviews of 276 schools and 200 APs in England and 25 in-depth case studies, the qualitative study covered a range of topics including what schools are doing to help pupils at risk of exclusion, delivering alternative provision, reintegrating pupils into the mainstream system and post-16 outcomes, among others.

The government report revealed that AP providers felt more joint-working would improve the system. This included AP providers being able to provide schools with more specialist support with behaviour management and pastoral care, and mainstream schools offering 157 more specialist expertise to APs in terms of enabling them to offer a wider range of subjects.

The schools consistently pointed to better funding required to improve the effectiveness of the AP system in their local area.

Funding also featured within other aspects of the report, with a “strong view” among AP providers that it was in the financial interests of mainstream schools to permanently exclude students rather than hand out temporary exclusions.

The report notes: “There was a strong view among some AP providers that schools were incentivised to permanently exclude children at the expense of fixed-term exclusions because local authorities funded placements for permanently excluded pupils, whereas schools funded those for fixed-term exclusions.

“AP providers described this as short sighted, as permanent exclusion would cost the LA more in the longer term and they deemed short-term placements to be highly effective in reducing permanent exclusions.”

The report also found that parents of children who enter AP reported feeling anxious about the quality of their education, or embarrassed their child had moved out of a mainstream school.

However, after visits and taster sessions parents were more positive about AP and pupils and parents alike valued features of AP, such as small class sizes and good pastoral care.

The Department for Education (DfE) research was conducted by IFF, the IOE’s Professor Martin Mills and Nottingham University’s Professor Patricia Thomson.

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