Alternative provision needs urgent reform to help children and young people

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have today published a report looking at how education, health and care partners work together to commission and oversee alternative provision (AP)

  • Good registered AP provides high-quality education, but too many children’s experiences are negative.
  • A lack of national standards around the commissioning and oversight of AP is leading to inconsistent outcomes for children and young people.
  • Local areas are unclear on roles and responsibilities, leading to an inconsistent picture nationally.

The report finds that the lack of national standards and clarity around who is responsible for AP commissioning and oversight are leading to inconsistent outcomes for children and young people.

Read the ‘Alternative provision in local areas in England: a thematic review’.

AP is commissioned by schools or local authorities when pupils have been excluded or cannot attend mainstream school, for example due to complex medical, social or emotional needs. Currently, not all AP needs to be registered or inspected, meaning there is lack of oversight of children and young people in unregistered AP.

While good registered AP plays an important role in providing high quality support, care and education to vulnerable children, the report finds that too many children and young people’s experiences  are negative, and the overall picture is of a system in desperate need of reform. Many attending AP experience a highly disrupted education, with one parent describing the situation as “soul destroying”. One child also spoke about feeling abandoned by their home school.

The report highlights some examples of good practice, including some local areas successfully supporting children and young people in transitioning out of AP. However, decisions about placing children and young people in AP are not always considered thoroughly enough and the effectiveness of placements is not properly monitored. These issues are compounded by a lack of clear purpose for the use of AP and poor strategic planning. Inspectors also found that agencies do not always collaborate, and health partners often are not involved in decision making about individual AP placements.

The report sets out a series of recommendations to improve the commissioning and oversight of AP, which will help children and young people both while they are attending AP and after they leave the education system. These include:

  • better guidance on the purposes of AP and potential indicators of success
  • clearer roles and responsibilities for different local area partners, with more clarity on how health and social care partners should be involved in strategic planning for AP and the commissioning and oversight of individual placements
  • improved oversight of certain groups of children and young people in AP, including through the introduction of a proportionate registration and inspection regime for all AP
  • greater consistency and rigour in decision making around individual AP placements and subsequent monitoring and evaluation arrangements

Sir Martyn Oliver, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

"Good alternative provision provides invaluable support for children and helps them engage with their learning. However, we are concerned that some children’s education and care falls below the standard they deserve. We need more clarity about how AP can be used effectively so that children have consistently positive experiences.

"We also remain concerned about the widespread problems with unregistered AP – after 12 years of calling for the mandatory registration for all AP, it is clear that the need for reform is more urgent than ever.

"I was pleased to see the Department for Education’s SEND and AP improvement plan, which offers an opportunity to give the AP system a clear purpose. I hope this report and our recommendations can support partners across health, education and social care in working together to deliver improvements for children who rely on alternative provision."

Nigel Thompson, Deputy Director of Multiagency Operations at the Care Quality Commission, said:

"Inconsistency in approach to alternative provision, including the involvement of health professionals, means that too often children and young people do not get support that they deserve.

"We have seen good care, delivered well – but improvements are needed in both the commissioning and delivery of AP to ensure that the health, care and education needs of children and young people are met."