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AP in ‘desperate need of reform’, damning Ofsted report says

Alternative provision in England is in “desperate need of reform” amid “systemic issues” that lead to “inconsistent outcomes” for youngsters, two watchdogs have said in a critical report today.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission said absence of national standards and a lack of clarity on responsibilities for AP commissioning and oversight is leading to “inconsistent and ineffective practice”.

They found this is often exacerbated by “underdeveloped strategic planning, an insufficiently clear purpose of AP and a lack of monitoring of children’s outcomes”.

The report, published today, looks at how education, health and care partners commission and oversee AP, making recommendations for improvement.

Key agencies often fail to “strategically collaborate” and decisions on placing kids in AP are “often not rigorous enough” and then  “not monitored effectively”, it found.

The report notes “too many children have negative experiences in AP” and  “the overall picture is of a system in desperate need of reform”. 

It said “inconsistent and often ineffective” commissioning and strategic planning meant “children’s experiences and outcomes varying significantly, within and across local areas”. But it also flagged instances of good practice for schools and councils to emulate.

Ofsted ‘concerned’ over standards

Sir Martyn Oliver

Sir Martyn Oliver, Ofsted’s chief Inspector, said: “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”. 

In October, a Schools Week investigation revealed thousands of children, some as young as five, are being educated in unregistered alternative provision where teachers require neither qualifications nor criminal record checks.

However Martyn added the Department for Education’s special educational needs and disabilities improvement plan, published in March three years after the SEND review was first launched, “offers an opportunity to give the AP system a clear purpose”.

The report recommends better guidance on the purposes of AP and potential indicators of success; clearer roles and responsibilities for different local area partners and “improved oversight” of certain groups of children and youngsters in AP.

It also calls for “greater consistency and rigour” in decision making around AP placements and subsequent monitoring and evaluation arrangements.

It also called for agencies to have “clear, unambiguous roles and responsibilities” in AP commissioning.

‘Schools not keeping close oversight of AP’

Schools or local authorities commission AP for pupils who have been excluded or cannot attend mainstream school.

Ofsted said a mix of registered and unregistered settings means the “quality of oversight for children in AP is highly variable”.

The report also found “limited specialist provision led to children being placed inappropriately in provision that was not resourced to meet their needs.. often for long periods of time”.

The report was based on Ofsted and CQC visits to six local authority areas, and more than 700 survey responses from those within the AP system. The primary purpose of AP in the areas it visited was to prevent children from being permanently excluded.

The watchdogs concluded that “schools’ approach to commissioning and oversight is fundamental to the effectiveness of local area AP systems”, and said they should assess the suitability of AP and “regularly review the impact of “individual placements”.

“Unfortunately, too often we saw that schools were not keeping a close oversight of the AP in which their pupils were placed”, the report states.

“In some cases, schools had not recently visited it or checked on their pupils’ progress.”

The watchdogs said academies and schools should “prioritise early intervention, where possible” as the report highlights “examples of the effective use of AP outreach and the positive impact this can have on suspension and exclusion rates”.

They noted “in reality, a lack of suitable specialist provision has meant that AP is also used inappropriately as a stopgap to fill deficiencies in local SEND systems”.

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