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Alternative Education

Volume 817: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of young people in alternative education.

My Lords, in January 2021 there were 12,800 pupils whose main registration was in a state place funded alternative provision, or AP. A further 9,200 pupils were dual subsidiary registered in state place funded AP, meaning their main registration was at another school. Additionally, local authorities arranged 32,700 placements for children and young people in other independent or non-maintained registered and unregistered settings. Around 59% of these were in independent and non-maintained special schools, many of which are not AP placements.

My Lords, of the 40,000 or so young people in alternative provision it is widely recognised that once they finish their schooling, many leavers—particularly those with special educational needs—still have anxieties of a large institutional environment. The only funded progression opportunity that exists at entry level would be a further education college. Will the Minister look at supporting these year 11 leavers in alternative provision and pupil referral units who require time to develop and progress towards level 2 with post-16 alternative education funding?

I recognise the work the noble Lord has done in this really important area. He is right that the percentage of young people leaving alternative provision who go on to be NEET is far too high. Over the last two years we have provided £15 million of funding for the AP year 11 transition fund, which allows settings to support year 11 students to transition into sustained post-16 destinations. That fund supported over 6,000 pupils, which is about 55% of pupils in year 11.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us where we are up to on the register? She will remember, I think, that some two years ago the Bill on home education passed through this House with support from all sides. I have had letters from Ministers since then saying that it is going to proceed, but it never actually does. It might be a good idea if they at least told me what is happening; it would be quite nice if they told the rest of the House as well. So, can we have an answer to that question: what is happening to the register?

The noble Lord will be aware that we consulted on the register, and he will no doubt be delighted to know that we have responded to that consultation. From the local authority perspective, the consultation showed a clear call for a register, which we support. There was concern expressed by parent groups who educate their children at home. We absolutely understand that many parents go above and beyond to do that, but the safety of children and the fact that we know where they are is all-important.

Is it possible to accept the fact that a lot of people like myself have had to put their children through alternative education largely because things such as dyslexia are not really accounted for? We have had to follow the Steiner school system, which is about helping people with those problems. That is one of the major reasons why there are so many children going through alternative education.

I think the noble Lord uses the term “alternative education” in a slightly broader sense than the noble Lord, Lord Storey, does, but he is absolutely right that it is critical that we support teachers, particularly in mainstream schools, where the majority of children with special educational needs study and learn, to identify as early as possible dyslexia and other similar issues.

My Lords, I assume that the Government agree that the number of children in alternative education is less important than its quality. Can the Minister tell us not only how many Muslim children attend our 2,000 madrassas—which are not inspected by Ofsted—but how the Government are satisfied that radical Islam is not being taught in them?

I can do my best to get the numbers on the noble Lord’s first question, but we need to be extremely careful not to mix up what is a school, which is regulated by Ofsted, and what settings provide additional education. We are tightening up the definition of a school and will be looking for a legislative opportunity to bring that forward.

My Lords, returning to home schooling, I have been very struck by the number of people I have met in the last year or two who have decided to take their children out of mainstream schooling to educate them at home—often, from what I hear, with spectacular academic results. But what assessment has been made about the trends of whether this is increasing, and what assessment has been made about the reasons why people are doing this? We need to listen to what is happening at a grass-roots level to understand this phenomenon.

The right reverend Prelate asks about the trends. One of the reasons we plan to introduce a register of home-educated children is exactly that: it is very difficult to track those trends today. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about the increase in the number of children who are electively home educated during the pandemic, but we do not have hard data on that, and we need to. As the right reverend Prelate knows, there are many reasons why parents choose to take their children out of school. Some children will benefit from being home educated, but we also know—to go back to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Storey—that there are parents who are concerned that their children will end up in alternative provision and want to avoid that, and therefore choose to educate them at home.

My Lords, two and half years have now passed since the Timpson review of school exclusions presented its report, following which the DfE confirmed that it would hold schools accountable for the outcomes of their permanently excluded children—yet a report that the department itself commissioned in May showed that in some multi-academy trusts, schools were refusing to engage with alternative provision. Can the Minister say what instructions have been given to regional schools commissioners to ensure that all schools in multi-academy trusts meet their responsibilities with regard to alternative education provision, which, of course, looks after the high needs of young people?

With regard to the Timpson review, where the noble Lord started, one of the vehicles through which we will deliver on all of the recommendations that we have accepted in the Timpson review will be the SEND review, which, as the noble Lord knows, we plan to deliver in the spring. We have already established behaviour hubs with funding of £10 million. We have included training in the early career framework around behaviour and we are clear in all our guidance that off-rolling students with challenging behaviour is unacceptable.

My Lords, the link between special educational needs—particularly undiscovered special educational needs—and children being excluded is very well established. When we get this review into SEND, how much work has been done in identifying what is needed in teacher training and professional development to spot at least the most commonly occurring conditions? Will that be a key part of the review and will this be taken into account when looking at what will happen to the high numbers of pupils who are being excluded?

The noble Lord is right. About 83% of children in alternative provision have special educational needs and 24% of them are on an education, health and care plan, compared with 4% in the wider population. We will be looking at all the best evidence and research to make sure in the SEND review that we deliver for these children who, for the most part, have had a difficult start in life and we need to support them in the best way we can.

My Lords, given that the reason for young people being in alternative provision is that they have been less than successful in mainstream settings and given that academies and free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, does the Minister think that there is a reason to look at the national curriculum so that more schools, including all our academies, might think it was fit for purpose?

I do not think that there is any suggestion that the educational quality in our academies is not fit for purpose. I hope the noble Baroness would agree that it is crucial that when we plan provision in an area, we first consider our most vulnerable children—of whom this is an important group—and make sure that they get the education that they deserve.