What alternative education can achieve is clearly related to: the nature of the programme, the time that young people are engaged in it, and the level of support that they receive. Full time, long-term alternative schools – such as free schools and some alternative academies – clearly intend that the young people who are enrolled are able to undertake an educational programmes leading to the same range of choices and life opportunities as in any other school. But expectations are less clear-cut for shorter term and part time arrangements.
OfSTED (2011) noted that schools gave multiple reasons for referring or offering alternative learning options to enrolled students:
- as part of a continuum of support for challenging or vulnerable students, the main aim of which was to secure examination success and suitable destination at end year 11
- to counter disaffection and to capture interest
- to extend types of experiences and learning on offer
- to minimize the impact of some on the majority
- as the end of the line – no alternative left
The current evaluation of the trial of school commissioning of alternative provision (Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER), 2013) also asked schools why they used alternative education. Some two thirds suggested that it was different from school – more personalized and had specialist staff – and thus did offer something else to students. About a quarter said that participation had a positive impact on students who were able to make a fresh start and improve motivation, engagement and their behaviour. The remainder said that they had explored all other avenues, that in-school provision was exhausted and that they needed to reduce disruption within the school. Also included in this latter category were some who said that alternative provision was the choice made by the students/parent.
If schools vary in their expectations of alternative education, then it may be very difficult to devise common outcomes that will be satisfactory to all of them. Equally it may be hard to develop a common quality framework that covers this range of expectations.
Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER). (2013). Evaluation of the school exclusion trial (responsibility for alternative provision for permanently excluded children). http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/research: Department for Education.
OfSTED. (2011). Alternative provision. Manchester: OfSTED.