What is alternative provision?
Alternative provision (AP) is education outside school, arranged by local authorities or schools, for pupils who do not attend mainstream school for reasons such as school exclusion, behaviour issues, school refusal, or short- or long-term illness.
It includes settings such as pupil referral units (PRUs), although some pupils who are on the roll of a PRU will also attend other forms of alternative provision off-site.
How many pupils are in AP?
There were almost 16,000 pupils on-roll at pupil referral units – and another 22,000 in other local authority alternative provision in January 2017.
On top of that, there were another 10,000 pupils with subsidiary registrations at PRUs (ie, pupils on the rolls of schools and attending a PRU for some of the time), according to Education Datalab.
Four-fifths of those attending PRUs have a statement of special education needs or an Education Health and Care Plan.
According to the Datalab analysis, PRU pupils are also more likely than average to be eligible for free school meals and to come from the following ethnic backgrounds: Gypsy/Roma, black Caribbean, mixed white/black Caribbean, and Traveller of Irish heritage.
What are their attainment levels?
On average, far lower than those achieved by pupils in mainstream schools.
When education committee chairman Robert Halfon launched the current inquiry, he said: "Students in alternative provision are far less likely to achieve good exam results, find well-paid jobs or go on to further study.
"Only around 1 per cent of young people in state alternative provision receive five good GCSEs."
Why is AP under pressure?
School exclusions are rocketing. A Tes investigation last year revealed that the number of permanent exclusions in some areas rose by as much as 300 per cent in a year.
This has been blamed on the academic and financial pressures facing schools. Schools may not feel they have the capacity to educate pupils with significant behavioural, special educational needs and disability (SEND) or mental health needs.
It has also been claimed that schools are deliberately "managing out" pupils who will detrimentally affect performance measures and league table rankings – a practice known as "off-rolling".
Educating pupils in AP settings can be expensive, and many providers are facing funding pressures.
What is the quality of AP provision like?
A 2016 Ofsted report found that schools needed to do more to ensure both the quality of education and the safety of pupils in alternative provision.
And, although schools were more aware of their responsibilities when selecting a provider than they had been in 2011, they "still lack clear guidance regarding safeguarding," the report found.
However, many pupils spoke highly of their AP setting, the watchdog found.