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Unregistered AP clampdown: Everything you need to know

The government plans to “time-limit” the use of unregistered alternative provision, require settings to comply with national standards and have councils maintain lists of “approved” provision for schools to use.

The Department for Education has published a consultation on plans to regulate unregistered AP.

It follows a Schools Week investigation which revealed how children as young as five were increasingly sent to unregulated institutions, which are not inspected by Ofsted or properly overseen by local authorities.

The DfE said its proposed measures “prioritise the benefits of good-quality, time-limited placements in unregistered alternative provision, to supplement children’s education while they attend school regularly”.

An evaluation report on the government’s 2022 call for evidence, which received just 135 responses, found that “when used well, unregistered alternative providers address individual needs, supporting often very vulnerable children and young people to engage with education”.

“However, in many areas there is insufficient oversight and transparency around the local management of placements in unregistered settings.

“In some cases, this has led to children and young people becoming less visible across the system, putting their safety and the quality of their education at risk.”

1. Time-limited placements

Ministers are “concerned that some local authorities and schools are placing children into unregistered alternative provision on a full-time basis, either in one placement or in multiple placements, when their needs could and should be met in school”.

Under the proposals, placements for children of compulsory school age in unregistered AP would be limited to either…

  • Short-term, for 12 weeks or less, and for up to five days a week, with the pupils returning to their schools at the end of that period; or
  • Longer-term part-time, for up to two days, or four sessions, per week15, with the pupils spending the rest of their time attending school. Multiple longer-term placements with different providers may be used but the combined total must not exceed two days or four sessions per week

All children would remain on the admission register of their schools, and the DfE would “expect there to be plans for successful reintegration into full-time school when each placement has concluded”.

The “only exception” to that would be for the “small number of cases where it has been determined that it would be inappropriate for children with SEN to receive their special educational provision at a school”.

2. Councils will quality-assure provision

Local authorities would be responsible for the “quality assurance of all unregistered alternative provision settings offering time-limited interventions in their areas”.

All unregistered AP would have to meet national standards before they could be added to, and then remain on, LA-approved lists.

Schools and councils would then only be able to commission timetabled intervention from those on the approved lists.

Councils will have the effectiveness of their quality assurance evaluated during Ofsted and Care Quality Commission local area SEND inspections.

3. Schools ‘required to inform’ LAs of placements

Having one body in charge of quality assurance means schools and neighbouring local authorities “would not need to carry out duplicate checks for placements they commission in these unregistered settings”, the DfE said.

However, schools will still be required to “assure themselves of the suitability of each placement”.

The government has also proposed that schools be “required to routinely inform their local authority about placements they have commissioned in unregistered settings and provide feedback on their pupils’ progress”.

They would also have to provide “evidence of reintegration into fulltime education, at the end of every time-limited placement”.

4. New ‘national standards’

The new national standards cover the following five themes…

  • Safeguarding and the wellbeing of children
  • Health and safety
  • Admissions, guidance and support
  • The quality of education
  • The outcomes of children

They will require all staff and proprietors to have an enhanced DBS check. Settings will also need safeguarding and health and safety policies. Admissions and referral procedures will need to be “clear and well supported”. Settings will have to record pupil attendance.

The standards will also require staff to have the “appropriate skills and qualifications to deliver programmes”. There must also be “regular and thorough assessment and review of progress takes place”.

Settings will also need to have a process for “setting and monitoring learner progress to support reintegration where appropriate, and for taking action if progress is not on track”.

5. DfE considering ‘flexibility’ for some provision

Some pupils with special educational needs receive what’s called “education otherwise than in school”, which is often abbreviated to EOTAS. This is sometimes delivered in unregistered AP.

The DfE said it will consider whether there “may be a case for greater flexibility to enable more children in receipt of EOTAS to receive all of their special educational provision in a single setting”, as opposed to from several providers.

Settings providing full-time education to five or more pupils – or one or more with an education, health and care plan – are required to register as independent schools.

The DfE asked if this was a “barrier”, and whether the law “should ensure that the delivery of all of a child’s EOTAS special educational provision will not be the trigger for the alternative provider being classified as an independent school”.

6. Separate arrangements for some SEND pupils

The consultation deals with two groups of pupils receiving EOTAS – those who remain on their school’s register and those who do not.

Provision for those remaining on school registers would be subject to the same council quality-assurance arrangements as for other unregistered AP.

But provision for those who don’t stay on a school’s register would instead have to register with the DfE itself, comply with the new national standards, and be subject to periodic national inspections by an “independent body appointed by the department”.

New providers would have three months to demonstrate compliance. If they do not, councils must find other SEND provision.

Those assessed as meeting the standards via this route would “automatically be able to join their local authorities’ lists of approved provision if they wish to do so”.

7. DfE will consider letting councils charge providers

Introducing national standards may save providers money because they have to administer fewer checks from individual schools and councils, the DfE said.

“Similarly, we would expect this to reduce the burdens on schools, as they would no longer need to carry out checks on safeguarding, health and safety, and on the quality of the education.”

But councils “may find that alignment with our proposed standardised regulatory approach may lead to longer-term cost savings when compared with their approaches”.

If it proceeds with the proposals, the DfE said it would “consider whether local authorities or national regulators might charge providers to join local approved lists, or to register with the department”.

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