Monday 13 March 2023

What is alternative provision?

Boy in woods

I have been working in various types of education for nearly 15 years.   I have three children (if you can call my teenager a child) in education - two of these with special educational needs attending specialist provisions. One of whom started in what's called mainstream (a regular government funded school) and has ended up in a special school as mainstream became unsuitable for him. 

I've been working in primary and secondary schools for the last five years and worked with many kids who struggle in school either due to special educational needs or other things going on in their lives.  When I worked in primary many of the pupils who truly needed more support than mainstream could provide would be supported in finding a different type of school for secondary entry.  

This can be extremely challenging as there are limited numbers of specialist school places, due to a shortage of special schools.  This is something that has been reported many times included on my this blog.  But these schools are not what is referred to as alternative provision (AP).

When is alternative provision appropriate?

What had not occurred to me then is what happens when the difficulties and challenges arise in secondary?  What happens when all the spaces at specialist secondary schools have been filled at entry in Yr 7 but a child is identified as needing a different placement in Yr 8 or 9, 10 or 11?  Or what if waiting until secondary wasn't possible... or what if a special school wasn't actually what was needed?

When a child or young person is unable to access mainstream school for reasons including school exclusion, behavioural issues, or illness, education outside of school will be arranged.   This education is called alternative provision.   

Can this include children with SEND? 

The head of a school can exclude any pupil, even if they have SEN or a disability. However, if disruptive behaviour is related to a child’s SEN or disability, the school should first take action to identify and address the underlying cause of the behaviour. The school must be able to show that the exclusion is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. This might be, for example, if a pupil’s behaviour is having an impact on the education or safety of others. 

What does AP look like?

The most common type of alternative provision is a pupil referral unit (PRU). This is a school that caters for children who aren’t able to attend a mainstream school. They are much smaller than mainstream schools, with very small class numbers and lots of pastoral support. Around a third of pupils in alternative provision attend PRUs. Most of the pupils there are secondary school age and most of them are boys.

The plan is that the alternative provision focusses on the child's needs and interests in a way that nurtures them, building their trust and confidence.  This is why it could also be therapeutic farms or forest schools, sports facilities, hospital schools, animal-assisted therapeutic centres or vocational and practical courses like car mechanics or hairdressing. 

While some children benefit from staying in alternative provision until they finish compulsory education, many will return to mainstream school, be it after weeks, months or even years.

Where can I find out more about AP?

If you are interested in finding out about local AP then start with your local authority (LA).  This is an example of an LA AP policy. Like all LA policies it will give a clue as to the overall options and attitude of your LA to alternative provision.  Like all things education, it falls within your LA to provide a suitable education for your child and the availability and options is very much dependant on where you live.  

Every child has a right to a suitable full-time education.   AP is not something we have had to look at ourselves. If this is something you are now looking at there are some great resources I found below. If you have personal experience you'd like to share, you can always contact me

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