Lower ratings for private alternative provision

The quality and quantity of independent alternative provision across the country revealed by crowd-sourcing research

Hélène Mulholland

In terms of alternative provision, both pupils and teachers deserve better, writes Pamela Dow

Independent providers of alternative provision are less likely to have a positive inspection rating than their state counterparts, according to information published today.

Information on the quality and quantity of  independent alternative provision was pulled together through a crowd-sourcing exercise and presented in a joint blog by FFT Education Lab and The Difference, a training programme for school leaders.

Figures show that less than three quarters (71 percent) of independent alternative providers ( AP) that have had an Ofsted inspection have a good or better inspection rating, compared to 89 percent of state alternative provision.

In terms of provider numbers, it is believed that there were 129 registered independent establishments offering alternative provision in England in 2017. However, the sector appears to have a relatively high turnover, with 51 of these opening since 2015, and 12 closed since 2017.  

Of the 117 independent alternative providers that remain open, 110 are inspected by Ofsted, though 13 have yet to be inspected. The other seven are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), though to date just two have had a full inspection, "both of which were positive", the blog notes. Unlike Ofsted inspections, ISI inspections do not result in an overall rating.

In terms of pupil numbers, a total of  2,772 pupils are on roll in one of the 113 of the 129 independent alternative provision establishments for which figures are available, of which two thirds are boys  (1,835).

Call for providers to be registered

The availability of independent alternative provision also seems to vary widely across the country: regionally, London and the West Midlands have by far the highest with 31 each, whilst the south west and the north east have just four each.

The figures also vary considerably by local authority area – a fact which is believed to relate to the differences in the use of alternative provision by mainstream schools and the availability of state alternative providers. In Birmingham, for example, there are 16 independent providers, whereas in Manchester there are just six.

One of the unknowns in the national scene are the number of AP providers that are providing services but are not registered because they fall below the necessary threshold.

Under Department for Education statutory guidance, an AP provider should be registered as an independent school if it provides full time education to five or more full time pupils of compulsory school age or one pupil who is looked after or has special educational needs statement.  

The blog raised the concern over whether “there is sufficient regulation and oversight” of unregistered provision and suggested that, “as a minimum we think that if a school or alternative provider is making use of (currently unregistered alternative provision, that provision should  in fact be registered with the Dfe.”

It concluded: “We would make the case for independent alternative provision to be recorded by the DfE as a category of establishment in its own right, distinct from mainstream independent schools.

"Until this is done, analysis of the type that we have carried out here is just not possible without people dedicating large amounts of time and energy to looking into individual establishments.”



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Hélène Mulholland

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