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Almost a year ago, Sir Michael Wilshaw, had this to say about alternative provision:

You have this combination of inexperienced staff, not really qualified to deal with difficult behaviour, and with youngsters on the edge of all sorts of trouble. That could lead to serious problems in our society. I’m not against schools using alternative provision, if they take ownership of it.

Whilst the dangers of ‘off-rolling’ or ignoring/marginalising pupils by moving them to poorly managed alternative provision are real, when it is properly managed, alternative provision can be a very useful tool in encouraging school refusers to re-engage with their education.

School refusers remain one of the most complex and challenging aspects of school management. This is not least due to the reasons behind school refusal being so far and wide ranging.

A poll by found the following reasons (amongst others) given by the parents of school refusers:

  • 21% – child’s needs not being recognised
  • 14% – illness
  • 7% – school pressure
  • 5% – bullying
  • 5% – change of school
  • 5% – reorganisation of school structure

A new environment

Given that ‘school refusal’ is now a recognised disorder on the anxiety scale, it is logical that a new environment will help those students who refuse to attend school due to bullies.

Whilst we see 5% of reported school refusers identifying bullying as the issue, it’s worth noting that these are likely underestimated, as not all children will report this as being the root cause.

If a student does not feel safe in school, changing to an alternative provision can give them the opportunity and freedom to focus on their education without worrying about their personal safety. Hopefully giving them the confidence to return to mainstream education in the future.

Focus on the child

If the most frequently quoted reason for refusing to attend school is that the curriculum does not meet the child’s needs, it is somewhat surprising that research still finds that “schools have received very little training on issues related to school refusal and phobia; any training mentioned was within the framework of school attendance generally”.

Micon Metcalfe, a school business director in south London, noted the improvement in GCSE results where a change in strategy was adopted, introducing in-house interventions and external alternative provision that was “tightly focused on the student’s needs”.

Alternative provision, and the lower teacher to pupil ratio, can also help in identifying learning disabilities that could previously have been missed in a crowded, mainstream school setting.

Vocational courses for school refusers

Alternative provision can provide a literal alternative track. Barnardo’s report into school refusals heralded one shining example: Palmersville Training, a vocational learning centre for young people in North Tyneside (notably a ‘Zero-excluding Borough’).

The main reason for the improved outcomes has been the ability to offer students a different curriculum where qualifications can be gained and social skills can be improved. Even where children had continued to refuse to attend school, they still attended set days at Palmersville Training.

Vocational courses and qualifications can expand the range of opportunities for students for whom traditional subjects hold no interest. Rather than moving these children to an alternative provision to ‘hide’ them from the next Ofsted inpection, school refusers who engage with a properly managed alternative provision can demonstrate excellence in school and pupil management.


If you want to implement an alternative provision for your school refusers, find out how EDLounge can help you improve their outcomes.