Out in the open

Think tank: Centre for Social Justice

Author(s): Beth Prescott

August 7, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Centre for Social Justice provides a framework for the regulation of unrestricted alternative provision.

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.

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.