Pupil referral units that see primary pupils spending a couple of days a week in mainstream education could hold the key to reducing secondary school exclusions, Justine Greening has said.
Speaking before the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, the education secretary said the behaviour of children in alternative provision was usually the result of "underlying root causes", such as a special education need, which had to be addressed.
Asked a question by Robert Halfon, the committee chair, who said that exclusions and the alternative provision system were a "scandal" akin to a "modern version of the workhouses of the Victorian era", Ms Greening said she wanted a "race to the top in terms of the quality of alternative provision".
"You look at some primary referral PRUs, they will work very differently with their local primary schools so that the child isn't permanently or systematically excluded," she said.
"A child can spend a couple of days at their school and then some two to three days in the primary PRU.
"Those sorts of models see the rates of young children then going on to alternative provision in secondary level dramatically fall, and that's what we should be aiming for."
Ms Greening said the children in alternative provision "have a very varied degree of challenges" and "part of the problem is they are together in a place with one...education system trying to deliver for them".
'Underlying causes' of bad behaviour
"Virtually 80 per cent of them will have some kind of special educational need. If that had evidence for itself in a different way other than behaviour, my sense is we would have a very different approach to those young people."
She added: "When I visited my local primary PRU, all those children had an underlying driver as to why their behaviour and their schools had found it difficult to cope with them in mainstream.
"Those underlying root causes need to be addressed."
The education secretary was making her first appearance at the select committee since her former junior minister Mr Halfon took over as chair after the election.
Shortly after taking the post, he emphasised his priorities for the committee, telling Tes: "I want the whole of the committee’s work – everything – to link back to social justice.”
Next Tuesday, the committee is set to hear from Ofsted's chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, and its chair, Julius Weinberg.