It’s often thought that pupil referral units (PRUs) and alternative providers (APs) offer a poor quality experience of education for vulnerable children, but in fact, it is better than that. Ofsted data shows that of their inspections in 2018/19, 88% of PRUs were good or outstanding. Where the problem occurs is where mainstream schools don’t link and communicate well enough with the alternative provider or vice versa. In this article, I want to look at some of the issues that schools and alternative providers need to do to make sure that they’re working together.
First of all, it’s really important to remember that the mainstream school retains the responsibility for the safeguarding of the young person even when they are placed at the alternative provider. Alternative providers should safeguard young people as well as they can, particularly as these are some of the vulnerable young people in our communities. Schools should ensure that the AP or the pupil referral unit has provided written confirmation that all relevant safer recruitment checks have been undertaken.
In their pre-inspection phone call, Ofsted will ask how many alternative providers does the school use, and how many children are placed there. This is a number that headteachers should have easily available. (I recommend that headteachers have it pinned up in front of them, so you’ve got the information is ready to quote).
Inspectors will check that the alternative provider is registered with the DfE. If the AP hasn’t been previously inspected, the inspection team will want to go and have a look at it. Alternative providers should be registered if they have more than five pupils of school age; if there is more than one pupil with an education, health or care plan; or if one pupil or more is ‘looked after’ by the local authority.
Mainstream schools also need to check whether the AP is safe enough and suitable for the pupils that they place there. It’s not really good enough just to assume that someone else has made a decision that it is suitable. Ofsted have criticised schools that believe the AP to be a safe place only because it was on a quality assured list from the local authority. If the LA’s Ofsted grading is poor, the school should certainly take its own steps to make sure that it’s been properly checked themselves. My recommendation is for school to make their own visits and record their observations on a proforma.
Schools placing a young person offsite with an alternative provider must know whether they are attending or not. Although the alternative provider will have their own mechanisms for following up poor attendance themselves, the school maintains responsibility for the attendance of the pupil. it should be really clear at the commissioning meeting, and put in writing, where the day to day responsibility is going to lie in locating a missing pupil. Outside of the safeguarding remit, schools should also have a sense of how the alternative provider is helping the young person with their personal development.