The number of primary age children in alternative provision (AP) has, according to Ofsted, risen by 27% since 2017; there are now more than 7,000 under-11s in AP placements, including those in statefunded pupil referral units.
In that time, the overall number of all pupils in AP has risen by 14% to more than 45,000.
As the Department for Education’s statutory guidance, Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) states:
“The cohort of pupils in alternative provision often have complex needs, it is important that governing bodies and proprietors of these settings are aware of the additional risk of harm that their pupils may be vulnerable to.”
Alternative provision can be an area where some schools fall down in Ofsted inspections, creating safeguarding risks that then contribute to poor judgements on safeguarding.
As one inspection report found:
“Leaders have not always undertaken the agreed safeguarding checks when sending pupils to off-site provision. This puts pupils’ safety at risk.”
The legal requirements set out in KCSIE are clear:
“Where a school places a pupil with an alternative provision provider, the school continues to be responsible for the safeguarding of that pupil and should be satisfied that the provider meets the needs of the pupil”
“schools should obtain written confirmation from the alternative provider that appropriate safeguarding checks have been carried out on individuals working at the establishment”.
School leaders can take some simple steps to ensure that they are following the statutory requirements on alternative provision:
- Ensure there is a central list of which pupils are attending AP.
- Obtain written confirmation from the alternative provider that appropriate safeguarding checks have been carried out on individuals working at the AP establishment. Keep a record of these confirmations.
- Check that policies and procedures are in place to monitor attendance of those at AP. What action does the provider take when a child is absent and how do they keep you informed?
- Conduct regular visits when children are educated off-site and/or attending AP. This gives you the opportunity to check in with the child, see the provider for yourself and meet key staff.
- Ask for a final report on the child’s achievements during the placement, as well as seeking the child’s view on the success of the placement. This can help the school decide whether to use that provider in future.
- Remember that students who attend AP or are educated off-site may be more vulnerable than their peers. Make their safeguarding a top priority.
Alternative provision is growing across the system, with the biggest growth seen in primary schools.
Primary school leaders should give their full attention to the risks and responsibilities attached to alternative provision placements – and continue to make their pupils’ safety and wellbeing a priority, wherever they are educated.
Hannah Glossop is a former designated safeguarding lead who now heads up Judicium’s safeguarding service.