The reason I set up EDLounge was to help combat exclusions using an alternative curriculum. I strongly believe that every child under my care should have the appropriate learning tools available to them. Ofsted states that “a supportive and stable school environment, and strong relationships between the school and parents were found to be important factors in preventing very young children from being excluded.”

Here are some of my recommendations for using the alternative curriculum to re-engage pupils and reduce exclusions:

Behaviour and Attendance

Set up Nurture groups – remember to keep them small, structured teaching groups for pupils showing signs of behavioural, social or emotional difficulties. Track student’s behaviour in and around school so that trends can be monitored. Try to anticipate potential problems and be as proactive as possible in preventing negative behaviour.

Have regular appointments with students and deal with aggression, an inability to work independently, or very withdrawn behaviour. This will help you in group tasks and when the students are reintegrated back into school.

Teach them to manage their own behaviour, build positive relationships with adults and with other pupils, and develop strategies to help them cope with their emotions. Emotional literacy is more that just announcing how you feel – it’s about how you interact with others and how perception is an important part of any friendship or working relationship.

Show your students positive role models. Get key local businesspeople to come in and give speeches and advice about positive behaviour and the need for basic literacy and numeracy levels in every working environment. Base these on what interests the students: a musician, a computer games designer, an actor, minor celebrity….anyone who can deliver the message and will be respected by the students.

Create different timetables for inclusion and alternative curriculum. If you get students in at different times of the day when they are on the alternative curriculum program and rotate the groups during the term, you should find that this creates fewer distractions for them.

Get groups of students that will work in the alternative curriculum to create a work council. This council can then set up acceptable rules that they and their peers can follow:

  • Set their own targets within the alternative curriculum
  • Set their own guidelines, rules and punishments
  • Ask them to set their own health and safety guidelines

Personal Pathways

When working with the student to decide on a vocational subject that they will enjoy and fully participate in, focus on the student’s strengths and positive feedback from their core subjects teachers. Over time this will give them the confidence to focus on areas of weakness.

Be patient with your students and treat them all as individuals. Give them an opportunity to try as many different vocations as possible and set them tasks that can be monitored and evaluated. Make sure that they have a realistic and level work load.

Although you want your students to try different vocations, don’t overload them with courses to follow that don’t really engage them. Talk to each student to find out what interests them and what they feel comfortable doing. Think wisely about setting a curriculum around each individual. Think also about the valued added and structure specific headline measure courses.

As part of your alternative curriculum, find local businesses that are willing to take on an extended work experience pupils. Let them go out for work experience 1 day a week.

Place them in Target groups for literacy and numeracy alongside their vocational choices but teach each one separately. It is time consuming but will benefit the students more than a generic approach to literacy and numeracy. Above all, make literacy and numeracy relevant to appropriate year and ability groups within the alternative curriculum and vocational courses.

Try to relate vocational subjects within the alternative curriculum to English and Maths and show them the importance of the cross curricular aspects of learning. Reward students for completing small, medium or large sized tasks, coursework or aspects of their course.

Practical Vocational Activities

Have an inclusion unit with set rules, set boundaries and specific teachers. Make sure the students know your rules and keep them simple. Try to set up an on-site provision (alongside inclusion) with a range of vocational zones for students to try out until they know what they want to do. This is where you will need staff with knowledge of vocational subjects to explain each zone to the students.

To keep costs down, approach local businesses and ask them for contributions to set up these practical vocational zones. This can also build relationships that could eventually lead to work placements, apprenticeships and career days.

Some ideas for vocational zones:

  • Create an allotment area and grow produce that is then served as part of their school meals
  • Turn an old disused area into a construction area – get the students to build a project and take it down at the end of the year
  • Buy an old car or motorbike on eBay for less than £200. Let the students dismantle, repair and sell it
  • Turn an old dark room into a photography studio
  • Set up a mock interview area and practice interviews for different professions
  • Create a school farm and keep small farmyard animals like chickens and rabbits

Give them local tasks and projects to do within and for the local community (raising their self esteem). Make them understand why you are doing this. This will also break down barriers. Work with primary schools, local help the aged groups or even find them ‘work’ within your own school.

Don’t Forget the Basics

  • Treat students how you want to be treated yourself. Respect goes two ways. You cannot ask them for respect and not give or show any
  • If a student gets angry or frustrated, work with them to find a solution after they have calmed down. Have a performance review with the parents if necessary
  • Constantly reinforce the benefits of completing tasks
  • Show a positive attitude every day, every attempt and every lesson with every individual
  • If a student is misbehaving in a class, make sure that they are paired with strong/experienced teachers
  • Challenge the students by moving them up in classes or ability subjects
  • Reward good behaviour
  • Set achievable goals in reintegration meetings and monitor and track them to completion

Finally, if all fails, temporarily exchange students with other schools in the area for 4 – 6 weeks. Talk to other heads nearby and work together to change students’ environments to find out if they benefit from different regimes. Interview the students afterwards and ask them about their experiences in a different environment and share their comments with the other school.