communication between schools and alternative providers

Alternative education providers might need/want to communicate with schools:

  • If they are receiving students via referral procedures
  • If they are offering part time learning options for students who attend school for the remainder of the time
  • If they offer short term placements from which students are intended to return to their schools
  • If they are a medium to long-term placement from which students can go directly to sixth form colleges or further education programmes.

The communication referred to here is two-way with alternative providers both receiving and giving information.

There is not a great deal in the research literatures about school-alternative provider communication, although many official reports make recommendations (e.g. Centre for Social Justice, 2011; Davies, 2012; House of Commons Education Committee, 2011). Jurisdictional guidelines on the provision of alternative education can offer quite specific protocols for communication[1]. What research there is suggests that there are both mixed views and mixed practices in communication between schools and alternative providers (e.g. Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER), 2013; Thomson & Russell, 2007).

Alternative education providers may well have concerns about receiving extensive dossiers on young people which provide predetermined judgments about problems and proposed solutions. Some providers prefer to treat each young person as a ‘fresh start’ rather than someone who arrives as an already well-documented ‘case’. On the other hand, other providers do want to know as much as possible about the young people for whom they will be responsible.

On the other hand, alternative education providers may be very happy to provide schools with detailed reports about students’ progress and achievement, or they may see that their obligation for reporting is primarily to the student and their parent/caregiver, or they may see that giving the kinds of information that schools request is an encroachment on their autonomy.

And of course, schools that operate with an ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude may not be easy to communicate with. OfSTED (2011) not only found this to be the case, but also that when schools did receive information about students’ achievements in alternative settings, this wasn’t necessarily taken into account in school reporting processes or in school decisions about the student’s future.

McCluskey recently led an evaluation of EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) in Wales (McCluskey, Lloyd, Riddell, & Fordyce, 2013) and the research team developed some principles for enhanced alternative education- school communication and pupil reintegration:

  • Clear protocols agreed between mainstream school and EOTAS setting, that specify responsibilities both of EOTAS setting and of mainstream school.
  • Comprehensive assessment information provided by mainstream school and by EOTAS on return.
  • Pre-specified length of time in EOTAS (in one authority there was a built-in flexibility to support one further attempt at reintegration if the first attempt was unsuccessful).
  • Contact maintained with mainstream school, often one day a week, so pupil does not lose touch with their peer group and teachers.
  • Specific help for students with literacy/numeracy and/or maintenance of subjects from mainstream.
  • Recognition within mainstream schools that reintegration would involve changes in their approaches as well as changes on the part of the pupil.
  • Flexibility by schools in making arrangements for pupils on their return.


[1] See for example ICAN in South Australia


Centre for Social Justice. (2011). No excuses. A review of educational exclusion. Westminister Palace Gardens, London: Centre for Social Justice.

Davies, M. (2012). Local Authority approaches to exclusion and alternative provision. Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council.

House of Commons Education Committee. (2011). Behaviour and discipline in schools: Government response to the Committee’s first report of session 2010-12. London: House of Commons.

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). Department for Education.

McCluskey, G., Lloyd, G., Riddell, S., & Fordyce, M. (2013). Evaluation of education provision for children and young people educated outside the school setting. Cardiff: Welsh Government.

Thomson, P., & Russell, L. (2007). Mapping the provision of alternatives to school exclusion. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.





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