All children should be educated in a setting that is visible, safe, suitable and delivering a quality education.
Across mainstream schooling and registered alternative provision, there are processes in place to check this is the case. The same cannot be said of children and young people in unregistered alternative provision (AP).
This means there are an estimated 20,000 children and young people – often among the most vulnerable of their cohorts – studying in settings that we can’t confidently say are meeting their needs. The very fact that we’re working with an estimate underlines how little we know.
The precise composition of the cohort is similarly not fully transparent, however what data is available points to a population which is highly vulnerable. Pupils in unregistered provision are more likely to be looked-after, to have a special educational need or disability (SEND), to have an education, health and care plan (EHCP), or to be eligible for free school meals.
That is not to condemn unregistered alternative provision as a sector, with my providers offering important and bespoke support for pupils.
However, in lieu of registration, we are left with a patchwork system of oversight that both fails to guarantee full coverage whilst also subjecting providers to duplicative checks.
Furthermore, the very basic requirements unregistered AP is currently subject to is both too limited and too weak to guarantee minimum standards. While unregistered providers are legally required to comply with basic regulation, they are not required to adhere to safeguarding or child protection legislation. The rules that do exist are unenforceable, given that no one authority is responsible for systematically regulating the sector.
To address this, we propose the introduction of a new statutory registration framework, requiring unregistered education providers to share pupil and setting details. Local authorities would be responsible for collecting these details and these newly ‘registered’ AP settings would be designated Licensed Supplementary Education Providers
We recommend giving local authorities statutory powers to enter and regulate unregistered alternative provision settings. Ofsted should oversee this process, mirroring the relationship between Ofsted and childminder agencies. Importantly, commissioning schools would retain responsibility for their own placements ensuring that the placement remains in the pupil’s best interest and that progress is made towards the set objectives.
Building out from a regulatory framework that ensures minimum standards, the next step is regulation that enshrines high quality education. To achieve this, we recommend introducing a performance framework that judges provider quality. This must recognise that unregistered alternative setting are not – and should not aspire to be – like mainstream schools.
Establishing comprehensive oversight of the unregistered AP sector and instating enforceable standards will help commissioners make informed decisions about suitable placements, while giving parents and young people more confidence that commissioning decisions are being taken in the best interests of the pupil.