Written By Mark Wrangles

I have worked across both alternative provision and mainstream schools and have worked to support young people from both sides of the fence. As an AP the schools I have worked with have been varied in the levels of attention and input young people receive once they arrive at a placement with us. So, what are the schools responsibilities? When is it appropriate for us to challenge a commissioning school if we feel a young person is not receiving the support they should?

It’s helpful to be informed as to the expectations on schools around their care and responsibility for the young people we work with. Not every school is clear around where their responsibility lies, a knowledge of this can help ensure the best quality care for our young people and increase the chances of a successful transition back to mainstream.

There are two places from which expectations for the use of alternative provision in a mainstream school are drawn, the Ofsted framework and DfE guidance.

 Ofsted expectations:

At the start of any inspection inspectors will establish whether there are any students in off-site provision (Full or Part-time) including those being ran by the school. They will ask for further details so schools should be clear about which students are in alternative provision and where. The school will share the details of any alternative provisions and it would be good practice to notify you they are being inspected and that you may get some contact from inspectors.

 Ofsted will ‘Evaluate the extent to which placements are safe and effective in promoting pupil progress’.

Ofsted are judging the schools decision to place a student in AP and their ongoing checks and reviews around whether the placement is appropriate for the young person. The responsibility for the safety and progress within an AP placement lies with the commissioning school.

The school may have evidence that you are a safe placement from local authority checks and approval, the AP’s Ofsted registration but should also have school checks and regular reviews. An inspection may involve questioning the AP around when the school last visited and how often they have contact.

 ‘Effectiveness’ can be evidenced by pupil progress against the objectives for the placement. Setting objectives should be a joint venture, agreed with pupil, parents, and clearly measured over time. To demonstrate these, it means setting clear objectives at the beginning of a placement. Having clear baseline data and the ability to track data from the placement. It also means having regular review points during the placement.

As an AP it’s helpful to make sure the school knows how you track any progress young people make and to make sure that objectives are linked to these. It’s also important that targets for the placement aren’t set in isolation by either the AP or the school but that it is a collaborative process with the young person’s needs at the heart of it.

It does raise the question – if, over time there is no improvement in line with the objectives does the placement need changing or re-thinking? That can be challenging for an AP relying on the financial input of a student place. It may be that the AP can change the approach with the young person to improve the chances of success, it may be that sometimes placements need to be ended and new solutions found that will work.

During an inspection, alternative provision placements may be called or physically visited (normally called). Questions focus on whether the commissioning school is taking responsibility for its pupils. Examples of questions include: How many students does the school have with you? How often are they in contact? How often do they visit? 

If a placement isn’t full-time, then the question will be asked to the school: ‘How are students kept safe if they aren’t on site for the whole school day?’ Once a student is with us as an AP, we feel the responsibility for their wellbeing, but schools bear a responsibility for this too, particularly where they are only paying for a part-time place.

It can be helpful to talk this through with a school where you feel there could be risks to the students. Does the school have a policy for assessing the vulnerability of the students involved? Are welfare checks made regularly and responded to appropriately? What are schools doing to make sure pupils are safe outside timetabled hours?

 If a student isn’t in a full-time timetable (or several part-time placements) this shouldn’t be considered a long-term solution. Any part-time provision (either in school or out) should come with a monitored time limited plan that moves towards a full-time conclusion. 

 Pupils are also expected to have access to a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ as specialist settings we don’t always provide this so the school should make sure any variations to this should be clearly planned, evidenced, and tracked with a limited time span and clear objectives.

 The Ofsted framework will assess ‘how well a school continues to take responsibility for its pupils’ and whether ‘leaders ensure a suitable and safe placement to meet academic, vocational, pastoral or SEN needs’.

It is possible that Ofsted will speak to pupils attending alternative provision as part of an inspection of their home school. Sometimes pupils in alternative provision have difficulty speaking to those in ‘authority’ positions or those they don’t know.

Ofsted inspectors are often dressed in formal suits with clipboards and can be intimidating for a pupil struggling in education.  It’s worth thinking through how well pupils are prepared for conversations with visitors. Are they able to communicate well about their placement?

 A schools leadership and management can be seen as inadequate if:

  • There is inadequate or ineffective use of AP.
  • There are no necessary steps to check the quality of AP.
  • Leaders are not aware of the numbers of their students in AP.
  • They are not taking responsibility for students in AP.
  • There are inadequate part-time timetables in place.

This means that, as an AP you can use this basis to bring challenge to commissioning schools you feel are selling your young people short.

DfE Guidance over use of alternative provision:

This isn’t statutory for academies but is it is expected to be followed as a guide to good practice. If it isn’t followed, then there should be ‘reasonable grounds for not having followed it’ If a plan for a pupil is different and limited then the rationale should be clearly documented by the school.

Key points from the guidance for school leaders:

  • The responsibility for pupils rests with the commissioner.
  • There should be clear procedures to exchange information, monitor progress and pastoral support.
  • A student should receive the same amount of education as they would in a maintained school (18+ hours is considered full time). The one qualification to this is if the student has a medical condition.
  • If a placement is part-time the student should attend school as normal on other days.
  • Parents should have clear information including why, when where and how the placement will be reviewed.
  • The placement should be regularly reviewed through ‘frequent visits to the provider’.
  • Placements should have clearly defined objectives with an end point of re-integration, further education, training, or employment.

 Schools should seek pupil views on the success of a placement.

There is also some guidance on what schools should look for in APs. This is helpful in terms of selling a provision to schools and making sure you’re selling the key things they are looking for.

 In terms of a quality AP schools should be looking for:

  • Suitably qualified staff.
  • Good arrangements for working with other services.
  • Good educational attainment on a par with mainstream with appropriate accreditations and qualifications.
  • Evidence of improvements in pupil motivation, self-confidence, attendance, and engagement.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve sat on both sides of the fence, commissioning places in APs and working with schools as an AP. I know that schools sometimes need challenging and that it is helpful to know what guidance they work by to do this. I also know though that school leaders, overall, are doing a very hard job with limited resources and time so I’d suggest that any challenge is gentle and patient. An increase in good communication and a real understanding of the needs of the young people on an individual level are key to developing the best partnerships.