APs like ours want clearer classifications and more regulation

Josh Blackburn headshot

recent Schools Week article raised concerns about unregulated alternative provision (AP) support in the UK education system, presenting potential risks to the well-being of children. However, not all AP providers encourage ‘van pyrotechnics’. In fact, as a legitimate AP provider, we’d welcome regulation.

While on-site health and safety checks may not apply to online tutoring companies like us, we prioritise safeguarding measures, reporting procedures and comprehensive teacher training. Standardising the quality assurance check for all unregistered AP providers would ensure consistent standards nationwide, benefiting providers and students alike.

Many stakeholders across different settings

We primarily work with local authorities (LAs) and their virtual school teams or with schools referring children in their care. We provide detailed information and progress reports to these institutions, enabling them to monitor student development and attendance closely.

Increasingly, schools require confirmation of our safeguarding processes and request letters of assurance regarding teacher DBS checks. This heightened scrutiny is driven by Ofsted’s emphasis on the evaluation of AP. It is obviously crucial for schools to have a comprehensive understanding of the external educational activities their students are engaged in, and we fully support schools taking the lead in coordinating these efforts.

Quality assurance with local authorities

We’ve participated in both informal chats and formal quality assurance processes with various LEAs. While we cannot provide an exact percentage, we have completed tenders and quality assurance procedures with approximately 12 in the previous term alone.

However, we’ve also experienced situations where we have undergone rigorous quality assurance processes but have yet to receive any business from that authority. From the tutoring industry’s perspective, this highlights the importance of identifying LAs that favour registered AP.

Distinguishing AP

Work needs to be done to distinguish catch-up tuition from AP. The line between the two can sometimes be blurry, which leads to varying interpretations. For example, a student receiving frequent, on-timetable tuition through the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), could be seen as either a catch-up or AP, depending on the purpose of that tuition.

The statistic cited in Schools Week’s article that 61 per cent of school AP placements are unregulated compared with 20 per cent by councils are therefore unsurprising. Lack of clarity surrounding the definition of unregulated AP and the different ways schools and LAs might commission provision explain a large part of that.

One of the positives to have come out of the NTP is the quality assurance processes that have helped our industry make big strides forward in terms of safeguarding.

Coordination is crucial

The level of coordination and communication between schools and LAs varies across regions. In some areas, LAs provide schools with a list of approved providers, monitor the use of AP and engage in constructive dialogue. This collaboration ensures the best practices are shared and helps identify areas for improvement.

However, in cases where the LA directly refers students to AP providers without involving the school, valuable insights about a student’s needs and progress can be missed. Striking the right balance between LA efficiency and the school’s involvement is essential for optimal student support in AP settings.

A centralised list of approved providers would also enable us to help more children. It would quickly open up provision in certain localities. For example, we currently need to be quality-assured by 30 different London boroughs to be able to support students across the capital. This massively slows down our ability to offer tutoring, even though the distance between a student we’re currently working with and one we want to support can be measured in metres.

Clamping down on bogus providers

Alternative provision plays a vital role in providing tailored and individualised education to students who struggle in mainstream settings. We have tutored over 270 AP pupils this year across key stages 2, 3 and 4, often as their only source of education for the time they work with them.

The DfE and Ofsted must develop regulations to establish clear standards and guidelines for the industry. By doing so, schools and local authorities can recognise authentic providers and get the right help to the right children as quickly as possible, while simultaneously clamping down on unscrupulous actors.

By Josh Blackburn, COO at TLC LIVE

This piece originally appeared in Schools Week: