Alternative Provision Schools

Too little status and attention has been given to those who work with vulnerable pupils. Working with the most vulnerable pupils should be seen as the pinnacle of the profession.  But while some parts of the school system have seen investment in recruitment support, professional training and research, this has not been the case for AP schools (Pupil Referral Units and Alternative Provision academies):

AP schools face even harder recruitment challenges than mainstream. The proportion of unqualified teachers in AP is rising.  And over the past five years, senior leadership vacancies have doubled.  More teachers should see working in AP as a high status career choice.

The outcomes nationally for destinations and core qualifications for AP learners is poor: 1 in 2 pupils are not in education, employment or training, six months after their GCSEs and only 2% gain a good pass in English and maths.  Yet many AP schools buck these trends, with effective practice.  Some are thinking differently about therapeutic support and work with parents; others are designing innovative curricula matched to the local labour market; still others are creating schemes of learning which see pupils make radical progress over a short time.  Nationally, there are too few mechanisms to share the very best practice around the system.

82% of PRUs and AP academies are Good and better.  But analysis of Ofsted reports points to a pattern in school improvement priorities: raising expectations in teaching and learning, improving assessment for learning, data monitoring and assessment.  As the Ofsted framework changes from 2020, there will be increasing scrutiny on curriculum planning, matched to the needs of learners.  More teaching and learning expertise is required in the AP sector.

The Difference aims to raise the status and expertise of those working with vulnerable learners: in AP, and in mainstream.

Partnership: Hiring a Difference Leader

The Difference Leaders programme is designed to add value to AP schools through:

Improving pupil outcomes

  • Expert classroom teaching for your students from an exceptional mainstream practitioner

  • School improvement projects bespoke to your school development plan led, implemented and evaluated by your Difference Leader.  This will include replicating interventions with a track-record of success including:

    • Curriculum planning to support progression to employment

    • Family coaching models to improve attendance, wellbeing and pupil self-regulation

    • Contextual safeguarding best practice to improve pupil wellbeing, safety and referrals

Building school capacity

  • Teaching & Learning whole staff CPD on the latest mainstream practice in assessment and GCSE specifications to aid reintegration and improved quality of teaching and learning

  • Whole staff CPD on wellbeing, safeguarding and learning - cascaded from the Difference Leaders curriculum - tailored to your school, delivered and evaluated by your Difference leader.

  • From Year 2 of the programme, reflective practice/supervision for school staff, developed, delivered and evaluated by your Difference Leader according to the needs of your school.

  • ITT support for unqualified staff (if specifically requested as part of partnership)

Raising the status of Alternative Provision

  • Sharing of your school’s best practice across The Difference’s AP community.  Including the opportunity to both present at and take staff to The Difference’s national teacher development conference sharing national best practice.

  • Awareness of your school’s best practice amongst policymakers, press and philanthropists.  The Difference will continue to celebrate excellent AP through its work with the media, which could include visits from journalists and philanthropists to your setting.

Learn more about partnership, click below and fill in our Expression of Interest form.

Case study: Transforming Lincolnshire’s PRU

In 2015 Lincolnshire’s pupil referral unit (PRU) was in special measures. Ofsted had found that basic safety procedures were not in place, and young people were at risk. Fire risk assessments were not up to date and in one site fire extinguishers had been taken from their mounting points around the building because staff were ‘afraid the pupils will use [them] inappropriately’. The sites were often staffed by temporary employees without ‘the required skills and experience to … manage [pupils’] behaviour effectively’. Most worryingly, school leaders had not ensured that all staff working with the vulnerable pupils in the unit had undergone the legally required criminal history checks (Ofsted 2015).
Learning and pupil progress was poor. Ofsted noted that senior leaders had not created policies to check and improve teaching and learning across the school, which was particularly problematic as there were so many supply staff who had ‘an adverse impact on the quality of teaching’ (ibid). Too often teachers’ expectations of pupils were low and the work of strong teachers was ‘hampered by a lack of strategic oversight, resources and staffing’ (ibid).
Lincolnshire county council worked in partnership with Wellspring Academy Trust to turn around the PRU. Wellspring run a group of successful schools for students with social, emotional and mental health needs, excluded pupils and primary pupils. This work was led by Dave Whitaker, executive principal of Springwell Learning Community in Barnsley, Mark Wilson, CEO of the Wellspring Trust, and Josh Greaves, the trust’s chief operating officer.
‘Recruitment was key to the turnaround process,’ says Dave, ‘and recruiting the right senior leaders was vital.’ Gill Kelly, deployed as the interim executive principal, came on board and immediately got to work hiring and galvanising a new team. But it was tough. The majority of teachers aren’t familiar with PRUs and don’t think to apply for jobs there. As well as adverts appealing to mainstream teachers, Dave and other colleagues within the trust used their personal contacts and online presence through the Headteachers’ Roundtable to help recruit leaders outside the normal pool.
Dave and Gill recruited a team of excellent leaders from mainstream schools, travelling from nearby cities to transform the PRU sites in this isolated rural and coastal area. ‘Phil was an assistant head in a mainstream school in Nottingham, and had exactly what we were looking for,’ recalls Dave. ‘Coming from mainstream, Phil could bring the rigour, systems and standards which were sorely needed in the PRU.’
Lisa was a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) in a secondary school before joining the PRU’s senior leadership team. ‘She had great leadership skills and extensive special educational needs and disability (SEND) experience and knowledge. We knew she would be an asset,’ says Dave. On her first week in the role she realised that education, health and care (EHC) plans for pupils hadn’t been updated; in some cases not for several years. ‘Crucial information about what these children needed to support their learning was missing,’ explains Dave. Lisa led a team to get the EHC plans in order and begin tracking interventions for pupils with SEND. ‘Lisa’s monitoring systems for SEND and Pupil Premium interventions, as well as tracking of admissions and reintegration, meant we could set meaningful targets for the pupils’ success. The staff knew what young people needed, and the steps to get them there.’
The third executive vice principal, Amy, joined the team with leadership experience in primary mainstream and in another PRU. She brought with her a wealth of expertise in quality assurance and set about designing systems to develop teaching and learning, implement effective CPD and raise professional standards and expectations. ‘With the right team, we could really start rewriting the story for these young people, who had been so failed by their PRU,’ says Dave.
From 1 April 2017, Lincolnshire Teaching & Learning Centre reopened as Springwell, Lincoln City Academy and the process had begun to create four purpose-built free school sites. The new school has a new purpose: ‘unlocking potential of the most vulnerable young people’. With the proper training, oversight, systems and support, staff in the PRU are now learning, developing and thriving – and so are the students.