Schools fear that they will be judged on the results of excluded pupils they have barely taught, after the government unveiled plans to overhaul alternative provision.
Under measures in the White Paper published by the Department for Education last week, mainstream schools will be accountable for the “educational outcomes” of pupils who are placed in alternative provision (AP) because of exclusion or for any other reason.
At present, some of these pupils are removed from a school’s roll when they are transferred to AP (centres for pupils who, because of illness, social or emotional difficulties, behavioural problems or other factors, are unable to remain at school). In these instances, the original headteacher has had no responsibility for them.
Last week, education secretary Nicky Morgan said that she would not tolerate schools using AP as a “dumping ground” and “effectively [giving] up on a whole group of young people”.
But headteachers are fearful of being held to account for the results of every pupil that they send to AP.
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TES: “Leaders will be concerned that the results of youngsters who are no longer at their school will count towards their school’s results.
“There’s a big difference between a youngster who has been in mainstream provision until the age of 14 or 15 before transferring to AP and a youngster who has been in AP from the age of 11 and has never really been to your school.
“If a youngster has been in your school for one term out of five years, you can ensure an AP provider is delivering high quality provision, but you’re not able to have any direct impact on the education of that pupil. I think that will be a concern to heads.”
The changes would also give mainstream schools responsibility for AP budgets (see box).
But Seamus Oates, the executive headteacher and chief executive of the Tri-Borough Alternative Provision (TBAP) multi-academy trust, which runs AP centres, said: “By giving schools control of the money, there’s a risk they will go for the cheapest option.
“With the pressure on finances we have across education, there is a risk and we have to recognise that. But by ensuring they are held to account on the results, my hope is that they go for those [providers] that will deliver the best outcomes.”
It is not yet clear how the DfE will hold mainstream schools to account for the achievement of AP pupils, but heads expect it to be done through GCSE results for secondary pupils, who make up the majority of those in AP.
Mr Trobe said that the move could benefit pupils if it ensured that schools took an “active role” in making sure the quality of alternative provision was high. Some academy groups were already taking the “very positive step” of setting up their own AP, he said.
But fair admissions campaigners fear that the change will lead to more backdoor selection by giving schools a greater incentive to try to avoid admitting any pupil that they feel could be at risk of exclusion.
A spokeswoman for Comprehensive Future, a group that campaigns against academic selection, told TES: “The combination of [the new measures for alternative provision] and the fact that every school will set its own admissions arrangements if all schools are academies, could well lead to more selection. The whole picture will lead to yet more divisions between schools.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates, who was already worried about admissions (see box, “Schools are already guilty of backdoor selection”, above), shares the group’s concern.
“If this [AP plan] was introduced it would exacerbate the selection by stealth which is already taking place due to the government’s failure to monitor admissions,” she said.
“Unofficial exclusions, for which there is mounting anecdotal evidence, would increase. It is fundamentally unfair to hold schools accountable for pupils they are not educating.”
Earlier this month, researchers suggested that under-pressure academies were excluding disruptive pupils in a bid to boost standards. Professor Alex Hill, who is based at the Centre for High Performance in Oxford, told a conference in Dubai that many failing academies “significantly reduce the number of students [they] teach by excluding poor behaving students”.
A spokesman for the DfE said that it did not comment on speculation.
For more on exclusions, see page 18. For more White Paper reaction, go to bit.ly/TESwhitepaper
A new approach to AP
What the government’s White Paper says on alternative provision (AP):
Mainstream schools will be accountable for the education of pupils in AP and will take a lead role in the provision – including when they have permanently excluded a pupil but the pupil has not subsequently enrolled at a different mainstream school.
Schools will be responsible for the budgets from which AP is funded.
Mainstream school heads will commission expert AP.
So that mainstream heads can commission the right services, local authorities will retain a role in ensuring sufficient AP in their area.
The government will expect the AP provider to work with the mainstream school to put in place a tailored plan for each pupil to support them to achieve the high quality qualifications they need for adult life.
New, innovative and specialist AP will be developed through the free schools programme.
There will be an innovation fund to test new approaches to support pupils who move from mainstream schools.
‘Schools are already guilty of backdoor selection’
“Nobody is policing the admissions code,” according to the NASUWT general secretary, who claims that there is increasing evidence that schools are flouting the rules with backdoor selection.
“The sort of things we are being told is that schools are running interviews, if I can put it that way, with parents where they have them along for two or three Saturdays,” Chris Keates tells TES. The government denies her claims, but the union leader says that more and more evidence points in the same direction.
“If you are somebody who works on a Saturday, having to be able to get out for three Saturdays, that in itself can be highly selective.
“Conversations are had with parents about their child and things are said like, ‘This might not be the school for you’. Parents have told us they have been to schools where the headteachers will say, ‘If you are committed to your child’s education these are the kind of things we expect’. And they often run through a list of the expenditure that will be involved on the uniform, on engagement in music, on any educational visits, on equipment, and so on.
“They sort of say anyone committed to their child’s education will understand that they will want to pay for that and then there’s parents sitting in the audience who think, ‘This is not the school for my child because I am not going to be able to afford to do this, or this, or this’.
“Because there’s that absence of policing, there’s a whole variety of practice there. We are finding that some of it is spreading to primaries.
“Of course, that means schools that are being fair on the admissions are getting a higher proportion of children with special needs and a higher proportion of children from deprived areas.”
A Department for Education spokesperson says that academies and local authorities must ensure that the school admissions code is complied with.
They add that Ms Keates’ claims on the subject are “not backed by evidence”.