In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, responsibility for alternative education lies largely with local authorities. In England, responsibility for ensuring the educational entitlements of young people in the compulsory years has been shared between schools and local authorities. Local authorities have been the providers of educational services for young people who are permanently excluded from school or who have particular educational needs due to illness, school phobia and the like. Schools have had responsibility for young people on their rolls, including those who they suspend and exclude on a short-term basis. Schools have been able to call on local authorities to assist them with specialist services, and with transferring students from one site to another, although in some locations this has been taken over by clusters of local schools acting together to ‘manage moves’ (Abdelnoor, 2007; Thomson, Harris, Vincent, & Toalster, 2005). The local authority Pupil Referral Units and other support services as well as schools were able to use a range of alternative education providers in order to provide enhanced options for young people.
There has been a range of concerns expressed about these arrangements (Centre for Social Justice, 2011; House of Commons Education Committee, 2011; Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012, 2013; OfSTED, 2011; Ogg & Kail, 2010; Reed, 2005; Taylor, 2012). As in Wales (Estyn, 2007; Welsh Assembly Government, 2011) and Scotland (PINS Scotland, 2012), there have been concerns in England about, inter alia: inconsistency in approach across schools and local authorities; variable times out of educational programmes; lack of effective reintegration; costs of provision; and inadequately monitored and sometimes inappropriate provision being offered to young people.
England, unlike the other three nations in the UK, is now changing the ways in which statutory obligations are distributed. Some funding for specialised support services has already been devolved to schools. Pupil Referral Units, previously run by the Local Authority, are now able to become Academies. The government is now trialing the devolution of other statutory responsibilities to schools so that they become solely responsible for ensuring that permanently excluded young people and others unable to attend school are ensured a full-time education. Schools in the trial have moved from becoming partial commissioners of alternative education services and programmes to becoming totally responsible for the educational needs of all young people on their rolls. The government’s intention is to make this a universal approach and they have commissioned an evaluation of the programme which will highlight issues that need to be addressed as well as good practices (Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), 2013).
This shift is designed to address multiple policy agendas but the most pertinent to this research is:
(1) the clear intention to address a problem which previous research had highlighted viz. the ways in which some schools had exhibited an ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach to excluded young people with the result that their entitlements to a coherent educational pathway was diminished. Rather than simply sending young people off to an alternative educational programme or full-time placement, the new approach requires schools to develop a greater range of in-school interventions and supports, as well as personalized learning plans for those enrolled students who are not benefitting from their current educational provision.
(2) the promotion of more choice between schools. The development of alternative academies and free schools means that it is now possible for young people and families to exercise their own decision-making capacity, and choose to leave one school in favour of one offering a different and alternative approach. Referral is now not the only way to access alternative provision.
The research, of which a literature review is the first part, is intended to complement these changes. Written with the interests of alternative education providers in mind, it addresses another problem which has been consistently raised by schools, by OfSTED, researchers and by alternative education providers themselves – How are young people, their parents and/or caregivers, and schools to know what is a quality alternative education provision? There is ample evidence to suggest that what is on offer, in what OfSTED (2011, p. 4) called “an unregulated and largely uninspected sector”, is diverse. OfSTED noted that alternative education providers did not necessarily register with any official body, and there was no consistent arrangement to evaluate quality. They observed that there were various approaches taken by alternative providers to costing, advertising and recruiting, programming, monitoring and assessing progress, communicating with schools and families and evaluating outcomes (c.f. Gutherson, Davies, & Daskiewicz, 2011; Thomson & Russell, 2007). Points of comparison between programmes were thus difficult.
At a time when there is more choice in the system and when the locus of commissioning has moved, the question of what counts as a quality alternative education provision is more pertinent than ever.
Abdelnoor, A. (2007). Managed moves. A complete guide to managed moves as an alternative to permanent exclusion. London: Gulbenkian Foundation.
Centre for Social Justice. (2011). No excuses. A review of educational exclusion. Westminister Palace Gardens, London: Centre for Social Justice.
Estyn. (2007). Evaluation of the implementation by schools and LEAs of guidance on exclusions. http://www.estyn.gov.uk/english/docViewer/172508.7/evaluation-of-the-implementation-by-schools-and-leas-of-guidance-on-exclusions-june-2007/?navmap=30,163,: Estyn
Gutherson, P., Davies, H., & Daskiewicz, T. (2011). Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education Provision. Berkshire: CfBT Education Trust.
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). http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/research: Department for Education.
Office of the Children’s Commissioner. (2012). “They go the extra mile”: reducing inequality in school exclusions. London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Office of the Children’s Commissioner. (2013). “Always someone else’s problem”. Office of the Children’s Commission’s report on illegal exclusions. London: The Children’s Commissioner.
OfSTED. (2011). Alternative provision. Manchester: OfSTED.
Ogg, T., & Kail, E. (2010). A new secret garden? Alternative provision, exclusion and children’s rights. London: Civitas.
PINS Scotland. (2012). Exclusions in Scotland’s schools. One year on, where are we now? http://www.pinscotland.org.uk: PINS Scotland.
Reed, J. (2005). Towards zero exclusion. An action plan for schools and policymakers. London: Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Council for British Teachers (CfBT), http://www.ippr.org/toward0exclusion, Accessed December 22, 2006.
Taylor, C. (2012). Improving alternative provision. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/pupilsupport/behaviour: Department for Education.
Thomson, P., Harris, B., Vincent, K., & Toalster, R. (2005). Evaluation of the Mansfield Alternatives To Exclusion (MATE) programme. Nottingham: Centre for Research in Equity and Diversity in Education, School of Education, The University of Nottingham.
Thomson, P., & Russell, L. (2007). Mapping the provision of alternatives to school exclusion. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Welsh Assembly Government. (2011). Review of education otherwise than at school and action plan. Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.