As a provider of Alternative Provision for over 11 years, I can sympathise with some of the comments reported from illegal schools last week. As a NEET prevention provider having worked with 50 schools over the last five years, I can also understand the drivers operating in schools.
In this BBC article, the illegal school proprietor recognised they had a narrow curriculum, but believed this was supplemented by a higher level of pastoral care.
Focussing on illegal schools will not solve the problem that schools face, nor the broader point about education. The fact is that mainstream education does not suit everyone. Schools are placing students in Alternative Provision that is part-time and unregistered; if provision is part-time, it’s not required to be registered.
Many students find themselves in multiple part-time provisions and never at school. This skirts the law. My belief is that all Alternative Providers should be registered.
However, registration is not the only solution to poor quality. Some schools rated outstanding use all the tricks in the book… and fail the most vulnerable students whilst maintaining their outstanding grade.
Alternative Provision needs a different approach. It needs a uniquely-crafted quality framework that recognises the needs of the students as well as the soft skills that the provider must foster in a young person to enable learning to begin.
Schools can’t offer the pastoral support of Alternative Provision, but they can offer a broader curriculum. For some students, pastoral input and care is more important for a period of time than broad curriculum. There must be room made for this need.
The £25,000 cited in the BBC and discovered by the Chief Inspector of Schools is by no means an exorbitant price. It depends on the pupil profile. Many Alternative free schools and Pupil Referral Units cost a similar amount. And some cost more.
Pastoral care is expensive.
Funding for Alternative Provision doesn’t include capital support and rent is expensive. Without the economies of scale, Alternative Providers find it hard to find venues that are comparable to schools, and so end up using places that are unsuitable. I don’t think this should give license to such practice, but it does highlight the need for proper consideration for where alternative education is going to be delivered, as well as what is being delivered within the funding.
The key question to ask is of the students: Which provision do they prefer? I believe this question should drive the Alternative Provision framework.
We fail young people when we dump difficult pupils with bad providers, or hide the problem by using multiple part-time providers. I agree with Wilshaw that the rules for Alternative Provision rules are ‘lax’ and need to be tightened. But they need to be fit for purpose and we need to consider good quality student engagement.