Collaborating for change: Addressing the unique needs of students in Alternative Provision

Last month, we headed to Manchester for the Alternative Provision Conference, where we met with educators from across the country to discuss the crucial role that alternative provision (AP) plays in educating vulnerable students who may face challenges in mainstream school settings.

With recent findings from the Department for Education showing that the number of students in alternative provision has increased by 20% in 2024, returning to levels not seen before the pandemic, the conference seemed timely.

The figures have really emphasised the need for attention to be given to the scheme, and the next government should commit to an investment in AP schools. But what areas need to be addressed?

Accelerating AP waiting lists

While great work is being accomplished in AP settings nationwide, the pressure on the sector remains at an all-time high. As many are now faced with unprecedented waiting lists, one primary concern is the speed (or lack of) at which AP is being made available to students.

For instance, in February 2023, we worked with a student who had been referred to us by a county council due to their poor attendance at school and other AP settings for two years prior. Despite only having the opportunity to work with her for a short four-month period, her English grade showed significant improvement, reaching a grade four. This progress prompted us to consider the potential outcomes if we had been able to provide her with AP for the entirety of those two years.

Often the most appropriate AP fit is not always the first one to be implemented. Students can find themselves moving from one provision to another before finding the setup that sees them make most academic progress. This highlights the importance of tailored and timely intervention: if a student does not find the most suitable provision straight away, then this further delays their progression. As a result, establishing a customised process for AP students early is crucial.

Small units and the funding dilemma

While small units often do provide undeniable advantages in terms of individualised attention and tailored support, there are growing concerns about their financial sustainability.

In contrast to mainstream schools, which accommodate hundreds, if not thousands of students, AP units typically consist of only 10 to 20 students. Many of these units don’t receive direct funding from the DfE and instead rely on daily rates paid directly by schools as their primary source of income. Despite their limited resources, these units are essential in offering targeted support and guidance to a specific group of students.

Given the current economic landscape, influenced by high interest rates and inflation, the continued existence of AP is under threat. Their potential closure would create a significant void for students relying on the unique teaching methods and personalised care AP provides.

Ahead of the upcoming election, investment in the sustainability and growth of these units should be a priority for the incoming government, in order to retain the positive impact of these units. One option is exploring cost-effective technology solutions that can enhance educational delivery and administrative efficiency, potentially saving on operational costs.

Adapting to student’s unique needs

It’s essential to understand the uniqueness of the AP sector. The latest statistics from the Department for Education show an increase in “school arranged alternative provision” placements from 24,577 in 2022-23 compared to 26,358 in the most recent academic year. Most of these students had special educational needs or disabilities, with 23.9% having an education, health, and care plan and 42.5% receiving SEND support.

Over 60% of students in these placements were male and just over half were eligible for free school meals. The most common reason for schools arranging alternative provision was off-site placement for behavioural support, accounting for 55.3% of placements. These figures prove beyond a doubt that learning to accommodate for the needs of individual students is key.

While AP schools and providers concentrate on long-term placements, others specialise in short-term arrangements designed to facilitate students’ return to mainstream education. Addressing the challenges within AP requires collaborative efforts from educational authorities, policymakers, and funding bodies.

Through collaboration, we can create a more inclusive and accessible education system that meets the diverse needs of every student. Let’s foster an environment where AP thrives, offering a pathway to success for students across the UK.

Contact us today to find out more about how our online tutoring for school services can support students in Alternative Provision.


Written by Josh Blackburn, COO at TLC LIVE