Ofsted research into Alternative Provision highlights SEND funding issues
New research from Ofsted has found that a lack of access to specialist support means more primary school children with additional needs are being referred to alternative provision (AP).
Schools typically refer individuals to AP when they are unable to manage physical or verbally violent behaviour and where there are negative effects on other pupils and staff.
Latest figures suggest around 7,000 primary-age children in England are in AP – a number which has risen by over a quarter in the last 5 years.
To understand why the number of young pupils being referred to AP is increasing, the research explored the role that AP plays in the education system and the reasons primary-age children are referred there in the first place.
It also investigated the challenges schools and APs face in supporting young children with additional needs, and how individuals are re-integrated into the mainstream classroom wherever possible.
Ofsted’s study found that most primary-age pupils only stayed in AP for a few weeks or months, and usually attended part time. However, a small proportion with additional needs stayed in AP for years whilst waiting for a specialist school place to become available.
In these situations, Ofsted highlighted concerns that the absence of appropriate teaching and specialist support could have long-term consequences.
Primary school staff also reported that the strain on specialist services nationally – made worse by the pandemic – has made it more difficult to support SEND pupils.
They also cited limited access to professional help, such as speech and language therapists or educational psychology services, claiming this could result in more AP referrals and permanent exclusions.
The research found that many children were referred to an AP when their schools’ support strategies had not worked – either because of a lack of training, funding or facilities.
Ofsted also revealed that a large majority of children in the study had social, emotional and /or health needs which aligns with national statistics on pupils referred to AP.
His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “It seems shocking that primary age children, as young as five, could be taken out of school for violent behaviour. But, as our study shows, AP can be a positive choice for these children and play a transformative role in their young lives.
“But limited access to external services, and lengthy waiting times for a special school place, mean some vulnerable children languish for years in APs that cannot provide the specialist support they need. And the consequences for these children may last well into their adult lives.
“The report states that a high-quality curriculum and high-quality teaching are crucial in preventing pupils’ needs from developing or worsening. Teachers would also benefit from improved access to appropriate external services, and opportunities to develop the right knowledge and skills. This could allow more mainstream schools to support pupils with additional needs, avoiding an AP referral or exclusion.”