27th September 2019
I read with interest the letter from Michael Rosen to the Secretary of State on Tuesday 24th September.
Mr. Rosen is quite right that we cannot ignore children struggling to thrive in mainstream education. Fundamentally, however, his attitude towards alternative provision (AP) free schools which are very much part of the solution, not the cause, is misguided.
AP free schools across the country have been set up from within communities, often long forgotten by successive governments, to provide something different and something better for their most vulnerable young people. As schools established with the community they serve at their heart, free schools encourage collaboration with leaders across sectors to provide a second chance for those that have struggled, for whatever reason, in a mainstream setting.
The freedom to innovate has seen alternative provision revolutionised. Schools such as the Boxing Academy in Hackney use the discipline of sport to empower pupils to manage their behaviour and gives them the confidence to learn. In Macclesfield, the Fermain Academy became the first Outstanding AP in the region and was this year shortlisted for the ‘AP School of the Year’ TES. The Derby Pride Academy, opened through a partnership with Derby County FC and Derby Moor Community Sports, delivered phenomenal results in the summer with 80% of pupils securing five GCSEs compared the national average for AP/PRU of 12.3%.
Regardless of what Mr. Rosen thinks of school exclusions, an outstanding AP sector is integral to confronting their consequences. The specialised support offered in AP free schools is truly transformative and in many cases allows children to return to mainstream schooling. The Family School in London, for example, sees 64% of its students return to their mainstream settings; of that 64%, 95% end up completing their education in their mainstream school.
The challenge is that too many young people who have been excluded are consigned to inadequate provision: there are 11 local authorities with no Good or Outstanding AP and 28% of unregistered schools are APs. This means vulnerable young people are at risk of being educated in institutions that are not even inspected by Ofsted.
I hope Mr. Rosen will look positively at the stellar work of AP free schools and reconsider his view. Free schools are a key part of the solution and not, as his letter suggests, the problem.