Press release: Alternative provision: progress made, but more still to be done

A new Ofsted report published today finds that schools still need to do more to ensure both the quality of education and the safety of pupils in alternative provision.

Alternative provision refers to education a pupil receives away from their school, arranged by local authorities or by the schools themselves.

Today’s report, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), was carried out over a 3 year period and follows up the results of an initial survey in 2011, which found significant weaknesses in the way schools used alternative provision.

Ofsted inspectors visited 165 schools and 448 of the alternative providers they used. The survey reveals that:

  • more schools are refusing to use alternative provision if they do not think it is of a good enough standard

  • schools have developed in-house alternatives when good quality provision is not available locally

  • more schools are working together to find and commission good quality alternative provision

  • providers are usually safe, with reasonable accommodation and resources available to students

  • a small number of providers are contravening regulations regarding registration, and schools are not always checking providers’ registration status.

The report also finds that, although schools are more aware of their responsibilities when selecting a provider than they were in 2011, they still lack clear guidance regarding safeguarding. The absence of such specific guidance leaves schools uncertain about what is considered good practice with regard to safeguarding checks on potential providers. Providers also lacked guidance on the use of social media and general e-safety.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Education, said:

It’s good news that that awareness around alternative provision has improved since 2011, but there is still much to be done.

Schools are voting with their feet when it comes to poor providers. More and more often we see schools working together to identify and commission better alternative provision.

However, it is vitally important that schools recognise their responsibility for each and every pupil sent to an external provider. These are some of the most vulnerable children in the education system and the school is responsible for ensuring their personal and online safety while they are off site, as well as the quality of the education provided.

The message is filtering through but I hope that this report will help to hit home that every pupil in alternative provision has the right to expect the same quality of education and care that they would get in the school classroom.

The Ofsted report makes several recommendations for school leaders, including that they:

  • check carefully the registration status of each provider they use and never use alternative provision that contravenes regulation about registration

  • consider fully the potential risks involved in unregistered placements where no staff or not all staff have DBS or other relevant checks and act to minimise these

  • give providers good quality information in writing about the school’s expectations for child protection

  • support providers to access appropriate safeguarding training and information for providers.

Inspectors will continue to evaluate and report on alternative provision during our routine inspections whenever schools are using it.

Notes to editors

  1. The Alternative Provision survey report is available online.

  2. For the purpose of this survey, alternative provision is defined as something a young person participates in as part of their regular timetable, away from their school and not led by school staff. Schools may use such provision to prevent exclusions, or to re-engage pupils in their education. Pupil referral units (PRU) are themselves a form of alternative provision, but many pupils on the roll of a PRU also attend additional forms of alternative provision off site.

  3. Alternative provision can be set up by the public, voluntary and private sectors. There is no requirement for the majority of alternative providers to register with any official body and no formal arrangements to evaluate their quality.

  4. In 2011, Ofsted published a survey about schools’ use of off-site alternative provision. The DfE commissioned a further survey which began in September 2012 and ended in July 2015. An interim report was published in July 2014 summarising the findings from the first year’s survey inspections.

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