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The DfE exclusion trial

Why school commissioning is an idea that works

Why school commissioning is an idea that works

Howard Gilbert, Head Teacher, St Ivo School, Huntingdonshire

Cambridgeshire schools, working with the local authority, have arranged to work in five partnerships that receive all of the budget formally controlled by the county for behaviour and alternative education.

Each school partnership commissions early intervention and post-exclusion provision using the pooled district budget. Since 2009 the attainment of those educated out of mainstream school has climbed while the number of permanent exclusions has dramatically reduced. One Head teacher explains how it works in his district.

Cambridgeshire Local Authority has a history of innovative work on school financing going back to its days as a trailblazer for Local Management of Schools in the 1980s and the principle of spending decisions being made at school level has undoubtedly been a positive factor in school improvement. However, when the Directorof Young People and Children's Services proposed the devolution of EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) funds I had serious misgivings. As Headteacher my prime responsibility is for the safety of our students and the establishment and maintenance of good behaviour is a vital component in this. I had concerns that financial considerations could result in students not being excluded who should be and also about the school's capacity to provide meaningful alternatives.

The drive for change was clear, over 600 secondary aged students were out of school and being taught by the County's EOTAS service, and the number was increasing! As well as the huge cost to human potential the provision for these students was very expensive and was top-sliced off the secondary school budget. In short we had a situation where too many students were being sent out of school at an increasing cost to schools.

A working group of Headteachers met with LA Officers to form a project team. The first stage was to understand the current system which had grown `organically' over many years. A funding formula was established which was not based on historical use of EOTAS provision but on socio-economic and academic indicators in each school. A decision was made that each school would join a BAIP (Behaviour and Attendance Improvement Partnership) and that these would be organised at a District level. The money was devolved to each district and each BAIP developed its own system for managing this. In Huntingdonshire we decided to devolve most of the money to individual schools who could then buy places from the local PRU. Each school received between pound;150,000 and pound;250,000 with a referral to the PRU costing approximately pound;17,000. The delegation was sufficient for schools to invest in developing provision to help keep students in school successfully.

At St Ivo, for example, we used the funding to establish `The Bridge' which allows for small groups andor individual work for students. This has enabled us to offer a more flexible curriculum including temporary withdrawal from some lessons. We have also invested funds in `Skillsforce' provision at KS4 which provides an alternative curriculum to those that need it.

The consequence of this has been to give us more alternatives when developing support plans for students who are not engaging with the mainstream curriculum. We also work more closely with our alternative education providers, in particular the PRU, and are much better informed about the progress of our students there. This is facilitated by an excellent Behaviour Support Teacher who acts as a link between school, provider and families and this is an important feature of the Huntingdonshire provision.

Most importantly of all, it has had an impact on the life chances of students. I can think of a student who joined us in January of Year 11 having not received any formal education since Year 8 and yet still achieved two GCSEs including a good grade in English. Another student who was proving very difficult to manage in Years 9 and 10 is now a successful student at university.

I can also say that the criteria I use for referring a student to out of school placement haven't been diluted. It is just that we now have better-developed strategies within the school in our management of disengaged students. Across the County the number of referrals has plummeted from 600 to 100 making us much more inclusive and enabling many more students to remain at school. It is not a perfect system by any means and it definitely has its challenges but it is undoubtedly a vast improvement on the pre-devolution system. Another example that it is usually better for spending decisions to be made at school level!

Related DfE article: Overhaul of alternative provision to fix `broken system' and improve standards for vulnerable and disadvantaged children

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