By James Brown, Specialist Solicitor
A whole newsletter could be dedicated to this chapter of the Green Paper. There is a strong focus on Alternative Provision throughout and it is a key issue for a lot of parents. The below is therefore intended as a guide of some of the key points and what impact they may have for children with SEN.
The focus within the Green Paper is a narrow view of Alternative Provision, as its focus is children and young people with challenging behaviour or health needs, as per paragraph 2, page 56. Paragraph 3, page 57 makes it clear the focus is on PRUs, alternative provision academies and free schools, unregistered providers and medical and hospital schools.
What is the Green Paper proposing for Alternative Provision?
make alternative provision an integral part of local SEND systems by requiring the new local SEND partnerships to plan and deliver an alternative provision service focused on early intervention
give alternative provision schools the funding stability to deliver a service focused on early intervention by requiring Local Authorities to create and distribute an alternative provision-specific budget
build system capacity to deliver the vision through plans for all alternative provision schools to be in a strong multi-academy trust, or have plans to join or form one, to deliver evidence-led services based on best practice, and open new alternative provision free schools where they are most needed
develop a bespoke performance framework for alternative provision which sets robust standards focused on progress, re-integration into mainstream education or sustainable post-16 destinations
deliver greater oversight and transparency of pupil movements including placements into and out of alternative provision
launch a call for evidence, before the summer, on the use of unregistered provision to investigate existing practice
The above all sounds good on paper and put simply the Green Paper is seeking to set out a national vision to improve Alternative Provision, which can only be a good thing if done well. However, unfortunately, the chapter is high in rhetoric but lacking in any real detail, which is a theme you will note throughout the Green Paper.
The Green Paper proposes for mainstream schools to have a clear, tiered package of support from alternative provision settings to build capacity to address ‘behavioral or other needs that present a barrier to learning and provide ‘world-class support’. What is world-class support? How will schools access this support; what will the criteria be? What other needs are intended to be met? Schools and parents are repeatedly requesting such support, without being able to access this. Without any proper detail as to how this support will be provided, significant suspicion is raised as to the impact this may have.
Nowhere does it highlight that EHC Needs Assessment should be taking place to identify the support the child requires, rather than moving straight to provision.
Funding is of course an issue and stability is required. The Green Paper states 7 alternative provision schools (yes 7, across the whole country), are approved to open. The £2.6 billion announced in the Autumn Budget includes spending on Alternative Provision, alongside the purported £11.3 billion investment since 2015. Again, all very good on paper, but whether this will be sufficient and spent wisely remains to be seen; recent years would suggest not. With budgets for children with SEN already extremely underfunded and unnecessarily complex for schools to manage and schools being short-changed by LA’s for the support they provide, how will this proposed stability of funding guarantee support? ‘Notional funding’ and ‘High Needs funding’ is already in place and when looked at in detail, is simply a mess.
Crucially however, as Mr Zahawi’s colleagues noted in the Education Committee’s report in 2019 (you can read about this in our November 2019 Newsletter here), chucking more money at the system is not the solution. A systemic shift is required. The Green Paper does not appear to offer this systemic shift and the lack of accountability remains.
The DFE want to know what you think by Friday 22 July 2022. Please email them and tell the DFE what you think via the email firstname.lastname@example.org