alternative provision to avert permanent school exclusion

This is the third post in my guide to school exclusion in order that the all-important conversations with the school and with the local authority – especially if the child has a statement of SEN or EHCP – can happen much earlier in the process.

Most schools don’t use their power in law to arrange alternative provision for a pupil at risk of exclusion in order to improve the pupil’s behaviour (sometimes called “directing off-site”.) It is mentioned in paragraph 14 of the current Schools Exclusion Guidance.

Alternative provision is not widely publicised, but some councils do have some version of their alternative provision catalogue or directory available online, for example Hertfordshire (check Poor attendees, Excluded young people, Young people at risk of exclusion); Hackney; Essex; Suffolk; Halton.

The single biggest reason for permanent exclusion from school is “persistent disruptive behaviour” and two thirds of pupils who are permanently excluded have some degree of special educational needs, with 1 in 10 having a statement.

Any child who is regularly sent out of lessons or kept in detention or put in internal exclusion or who is excluded from school for a few days is eligible for consideration of alternative provision to improve his or her behaviour, rather than just accumulating more and more in-school disciplinary sanctions.

Parents also tell researchers that schools don’t put processes or support in place to manage the escalating difficulties, and don’t make reasonable adjustments for their child’s needs. They also feel schools have broken promises about the support they would put in place to deal with SEND issues. Link.

The current Government Exclusions Guidance (2012) says:

24. Where a school has concerns about the behaviour, or risk of exclusion, of a child with additional needs, a pupil with a statement of SEN or a looked after child it should, in partnership with others (including the local authority as necessary), consider what additional support or alternative placement may be required.

Unfortunately, the critical word here is “should”, not must. As parents will be only too aware, the behaviour strategy in the majority of schools consists of internal exclusion.

This is what the Government Guidance on Alternative Provision 2013 says:

23. Governing bodies of maintained schools have the power to direct a pupil off-site for education to improve his or her behaviour. The Secretary of State has made regulations concerning schools’ use of this power.
24. Under revised off-site regulations the governing body must: ensure that parents (and the local authority where the pupil has a statement of special educational needs) are given clear information about the placement: why, when, where, and how it will be reviewed; keep the placement under review and involve parents in the review. The regulations specify regular reviews but do not specify how often reviews must take place (that should be decided on a case-by-case basis). Reviews should be frequent enough to provide assurance that the off-site education is achieving its objectives and that the pupil is benefitting from it; and have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State on the use of this power.

If the school is a maintained school, any off-site arrangement “should” (again, not must) be done in consultation with parents, although parents must be given information about the placement. If the school is an academy it will depend on the academy’s funding agreement as to whether the academy is able to place a pupil in another educational setting full-time. (By January 2014 57% of state-funded secondary schools were academies. Link)

The current rules for off-site provision have been in place since 2010. They were introduced by enacting a new section 29A (click on drop down box for “prospective” legislation) into the Education Act 2002 which had been on the books since 2008. The first set of regulations covering off-site provision were introduced in 2010 but were modified in 2012. (The current version of the Alternative Provision Guidance dates from 2013 and takes account of the revised regulations.)

Before 2010, schools had been able to “require pupils to attend at any place outside the school premises for the purposes of receiving any instruction or training” and the previous Exclusions Guidance page 17 (2008, now superseded) specifically said that off-site provision WASN’T to be used to improve behaviour.

The Government made the change in 2010 because of concerns that some schools were sending challenging pupils to alternative provision for an indefinite time without adequate supervision or review.

As a result of the change, the view may have arisen that Government frowned on the use of alternative provision, although the opposite is true, as this article from law firm 11KBW points out:

57. Finally, it is worth noting that the DfE considered that section 29A and the 2010 Regulations would be considered a success if:
a. There is an increase in the number of pupils placed in alternative provision by schools;
b. Pupils are referred to alternative provision at an earlier age; and,
c. There is a fall in the number of permanent and fixed exclusions.
58. Clearly, therefore, section 29A is envisaged as a way of replacing or avoiding permanent exclusions.

(Incidentally, home educators may recall flexi-schooling arrangements being affected by the debate about off-site education taking place around 2012/13 when the Government said concerns had been raised that “some schools were using the school attendance “B” code [educated off-site] inappropriately.“)

In areas where schools and local authorities work together to tackle the issue of excluded pupils, the use of alternative provision while pupils are still on roll increases significantly. This has been noticeable in feedback from the School Exclusions Trial and also in interviews about the Cambridgeshire experiment (Cambridgeshire wasn’t part of the School Exclusions Trial)

Charlie Taylor told the Education Committee about Cambridgeshire in 2012

I talked to one of the heads about that. I said, “What are you doing? What are your magic formulae that you are putting in place here?” Actually what he said was that some of the solutions are quite simple. You have got a child who constantly disrupts science practical lessons. If he carries on doing it, he could potentially put other children at risk. Potentially he could end up being permanently excluded. Actually paying a teacher a few pounds to stay after school in the evening to teach that child and a couple of other children is a far cheaper and simpler solution, rather than waiting until the child pushes you and pushes you and pushes you, and then reaches the stage when they are permanently excluded.

As explained here, headteachers in Cambridgeshire paid the cost of a PRU place – £16,000 a year – out of their collective budgets. The number of PRU places and support and tuition packages bought by the schools dropped from around 600 to 120. Four PRUs were closed and replaced by a single PRU called the County School. The LA favours dual registration between the school and the County School.

The deal was that schools would have the whole budget and have full accountability. When we ran the budget for the first time in shadow form it showed that several of the partnerships would move into deficit very quickly unless they changed their pattern of referrals.
Their eyes lit up when they saw the budget but their dreams of investing the money in their own schools quickly evaporated as they realised how much money was committed to PRU places and other alternative provision. It took a while and some radical changes of behaviour by schools because if they wished to have even a small amount of the money for local investment, then they were going to have to reduce referrals.

The original publicity for the Schools Exclusion Trial focused on schools taking charge of the funding for excluded pupils and retaining responsibility for pupils’ academic progress following exclusion, including having to publish the exam results. It came in the wake of various reports highlighting the lack of regulation for alternative providers and poor GCSE results versus high cost of a place at a Pupil Referral Unit. There were predictions that this would lead to the closure of PRUS and/or the setting up of more Alternative Provision Academies. It was also predicted that the local authority would have less and less of role to play.

In fact, the outcome of the School Exclusions Trial has been far more mixed, which is possibly why the Government is no longer talking about it. Only one authority (I can’t see which one) adopted the Power to Innovate as a means of transferring the LA’s legal duty to arrange suitable education for permanently excluded pupils to schools and even there, the partnership of 8 schools and the local FE college used the local authority existing catalogue of vetted providers. (See page 120 of the Final Report)

The remaining ten LAs implemented the trial under the current legislative framework. An initial list of LAs can be found here. Some LAs put in place shadow budgets, whilst others assigned each school with a set number of Alternative Provision places.

In other words, the formal framework of the trial doesn’t need to be in place ; schools and local authorities are able to decide to do things differently within the current law even though the trial has finished.

Changes which did result from the trial included the increased use of partnership working and collective decision making through the use of panels (e.g. district panels, fair access panels); enhanced quality assurance (QA), accreditation systems and service level agreements for AP providers; increased collaboration between schools (e.g. pupils transferred to another school for a trial period); an increase in managed moves; revised commissioning procedures; more early intervention programmes to prevent exclusion; the use of time-limited AP (to avoid permanent exclusion).

Schools in the Trial actually used more LA services such as Traveller Education or Looked-After Children support. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and PRUs remained the most common type of Alternative Provision, although training providers, private sector organisations and work placements were all used as well as places in FE colleges. Link

You can find more detail about what actually happened in the School Exclusions Trial (and try and guess which LA is which!) from page 120 onwards here. Several areas had an arrangement or Service Level Agreement with the PRU where volunteer secondary schools paid for a set amount of time-limited “intervention work” for at-risk pupils, either full-time or part-time, which could be off-site in alternative provision or delivered by external providers on the school site. In these areas the PRU actually expanded its provision because of pre-purchased place funding.

By the time parents contact me it’s often too late to change what is happening in school. My hope is that by putting the information here, home education will be something parents actually choose rather than being pushed.

Parents Guide to School Exclusion
Parents Guide to Internal Exclusion
Permanent Exclusion
GOV.UK: “Permanent exclusion means your child is expelled”
Fixed Period Exclusion
GOV.UK: “A fixed period exclusion is where your child is temporarily removed [suspended] from school”
2012 Exclusions Guidance

Click to access Exclusion_from_maintained_schools__academies_and_pupil_referral_units.pdf

Exclusions Statistics 2013-14 published July 2015
School Exclusions Trial Interim Report
School Exclusions Trial Final Report

Click to access RR364_-_School_Exclusion_Trial_Final_Report.pdf

My website page on exclusions

3 thoughts on “alternative provision to avert permanent school exclusion

    1. Fiona Nicholson Post author

      Hi, PRUs can be used for temporary education offsite while a student is still on roll (to improve behaviour) or for longer term provision after a child has been permanently excluded (it’s supposed to be short/medium term turnaround back into mainstream but it often doesn’t work out that way) So it would depend where in the process your child was at the moment, and whether the local authority had a responsibility to provide education (which it doesn’t for a child who is taken out of school by parents)


  1. Pingback: Alternative Provision, Illegal Schools, Tracking Children Out Of School | edyourself

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