An investigation into the programmes provided for young people permanently excluded, or at risk of permanent exclusion from school.
The research investigates the type, location, enrolment, scale and scope of programmes for excluded young people in two Midlands local authorities. It also examines six examples of good practice. The study addresses the government’s policy commitment to ensure that all young people under 16 access their entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum. It explores concerns that some young people ‘fall through the cracks’ of provision.
The research asked the following questions:
The researchers used a mixed-methods approach, combining:
Government policy in England entitles all young people aged 14 to 19 to a broad and balanced curriculum, with personalised education and training. This research investigates how this policy is being carried out in two Midlands educational authorities through alternative programmes for young people who are permanently excluded from school, or at risk of permanent exclusion.
Alternative provision for excluded students falls into two broad types:
Core provision - where a young person is on the roll. This means that this is the young person’s home base. The core provider has a legal responsibility for ensuring that the young person has an appropriate programme and they typically offer some academic subjects and some social and life skills training. Core provision is often a pupil referral unit.
Specialist provision – where a young person is offered a part-time programme but is not on the roll. Specialist providers typically offer vocational and recreational programmes. They offer places to both alternative core providers and schools.
Alternative core providers tailor a ‘package’ of programmes for each young person. Schools tend to use specialist provision, either to provide things they cannot, or as a measure to prevent young people from being permanently excluded.
The study took as its starting point the principle that in order to ensure access to and equity of entitlement, there needs to be a way to monitor:
This kind of monitoring requires not just data about individuals but also aggregated information about the young people according to age, gender, race, ethnicity, language background and cultural heritage, disability and socio-economic status. Policy-makers would then know who gets what.
The study found that young people’s access to and experience of education was directly affected by the nature of the field of alternative provision. There were also some specific barriers to access and participation. The nature of the field Over the course of the year studied, there were quite significant changes in the number, type and location of specialist programmes.
The field of alternative provision is organisationally mixed. Alternative core and specialist programmes were offered by:
This mix led to multiple goals and frameworks for data collection, and different areas of responsibility and accountability. No single body had responsibility for overall tracking and monitoring, forward planning or quality assurance of alternative provision in the Midlands area. Some schools and alternative core providers were taking steps to institute their own quality assurance processes. This could prove to be a problem for specialist providers, who might find themselves with multiple frameworks to meet. It was also an inefficient use of time and resources for alternative core providers.
The study identified some key issues for equality of access to alternative provision.
Researcher: “So how many places do the PRUs [Pupil Referral Units] reserve?” Provider: “One of them’s done thirty, one of them’s done twenty and the other one’s done twenty-five. All of them had filled their places by October and all of them came back asking for more places and I had to say ‘no’.”
Young person: “It’s kind of hard to get into college with OCNs because you need GCSEs. I’ve applied to places like College A and College B and they’ve said if I can’t get GCSEs then I will have to do GCSEs there. And then I phoned College C and they said they take OCNs so I’ll probably go there … it’s my feeder college.” Researcher: “What are you going to do when you go there?” Young person: “A-level History.” Researcher: “Do you do anything related to History now?” Young person: “No.”
What works for young people excluded from school is relatively well known – small classes, negotiated activities, flexible approaches, extended care and meeting the whole range of young people’s needs and aspirations. The organisations involved in this study showed tenacity in chasing up young people and refusing to give up on them. This was often in stark contrast to what had happened before.
Provider: “I think a lot of the time they’ve just been lost in the system which is quite disappointing really. And while they’ve been out of school nobody has been actively involved with them, like a welfare officer.”
The case studies of good practice found in this research were providers characterised by carefully selected, well-qualified, and well-supported staff, high levels of trust among services and sound self-evaluation processes. This kind of provision is not cheap and expanding such provision clearly presents a challenge for local authorities. The study also found a number of parents and carers who could, if there was an appropriate structure, provide sound ’user’ advice to local authorities and alternative core providers.
The study suggests that alternative provision can be understood as a relatively unregulated field in which there is a great range of organisation sizes, inspection regimes, data collection frameworks and priorities. These factors combine to limit the development of comprehensive local forward planning. It would be in the interests of the most vulnerable young people if their needs and interests were more integrated into the 14 to19 education agenda, and not seen as a welfare matter. The needs of young people excluded from school should be made central to the work of all education providers. This would require more dialogue and cooperation between alternative providers and schools. It would also mean systematically building on the good practice that exists.
The researchers conclude that if an educational entitlement for all those aged 14 to 19 is to be assured, there must be further development of processes for monitoring and auditing the participation of all students, including those excluded from school. This may mean new roles for local authorities and a shift away from a single focus on individual systems of tracking, towards an aggregated data set. This would allow national and local authorities to answer the question of who gets what and with what effects.
The study used a mix of methods including statistical mapping, survey, ethnographic observation, and interviews. The researchers conducted 85 interviews with a range of policy and programme staff, young people and their parents. Phase one aimed to identify, survey and map all the alternative programmes in the two Midlands local authorities. Phase two involved six case studies of good practice. Fieldwork ran from December 2005 to July 2006.