School leaders have warned that an “acute” teacher recruitment crisis in the alternative provision sector is leaving the odds “stacked against” pupils who require its support.
The NAHT heads' union highlighted the rise in vacancies in AP and special schools since 2011, and said the rate is now 100-150 per cent higher than in mainstream secondary schools.
In written evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s inquiry into alternative provision, it said: “The recruitment crisis afflicting teaching is even more acute in the alternative provision and special sector, where the number of vacancies has tripled since 2011.”
It warned that this, combined with funding pressures and delays accessing local authority specialist support services, means "the odds are stacked against pupils who require the support of alternative provision schools”.
Its concerns were echoed by the Headteachers’ Roundtable, which wrote: “The recruitment of teachers to AP settings is difficult. Advertising for teacher vacancies can generate very limited interest and therefore the pool of applicants is very usually small. This automatically narrows the field and makes recruitment difficult.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The most recently published statistics show that the vacancy rate in the alternative provision and special needs sector is very small at only 0.5 per cent. This amounts to fewer than 100 vacancies.”
According to these statistics, the equivalent rates for secondaries were 0.2 per cent in maintained schools and 0.3 per cent in academies.
Other submissions to the select committee highlighted concerns about a shortage of subject specialists in the AP sector.
The NEU teaching union said: “PRU [pupil referral unit] and ex-PRU members have pointed out that many teachers are teaching in subjects outside their specialism; unqualified teachers are being employed in PRUs; qualified teachers are leaving the profession; and many support staff have been made redundant due to funding cuts.”
In its evidence, the Engage Trust, an alternative provision multi-academy trust that operates in eight locations in Norfolk, said it could only afford qualified teaching staff for English, maths, science, IT and primary classes, and “all other subjects are taught by unqualified instructors”.
The concerns follow a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research in October which warned that recruitment challenge in the AP sector “results in a dependence on supply teachers”, with children in a special or AP school twice as likely to have a supply teacher, compared to a mainstream teacher.
It warned: “This is concerning because the temporary nature of supply work can hamper the trust and relationships with pupils, necessary for effective behaviour management and teaching and learning.”