Independent alternative education provider, Progress Schools, has recently concluded a 6-month campaign by joining numerous Government officials in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the challenges and perceptions of Alternative Provision (AP).
The campaign, entitled ‘In My Shoes’, gained the endorsement of think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice and sought to give MPs, Peers, Government Ministers, and Civil Servants the opportunity to gain an immersive, authentic, and thought-provoking experience of what AP or education outside mainstream school, is.
Politicians from across political parties were invited into their local Progress School for one day to walk in the shoes of a young person attending that school. They were given a student’s timetable to follow, enabling them to gain an authentic understanding of the challenges faced by the students and staff, and the numerous ways in which Progress Schools students are supported to access an educational provision.
During the 6-month campaign, over 30 hours of MP’s time was pledged across 6 schools, with further visits planned for the Autumn term.
Navendu Mishra MP for Stockport visited Progress Schools Stockport in early 2023 and commented:
”I really enjoyed my visit to Progress School in Stockport. It was interesting to see how the staff support the learning and the social and emotional well-being of young people with complex additional needs. I had some good conversations with the students that will help me ensure their voices are heard in future plans for Alternative Provision.”
When asked about his visit to Progress Schools in Spring 2023, John Stevens, MP for Carlisle commented that, “it is vitally important that we shine a spotlight on such initiatives because only by coming together to address some of the challenges facing young people in AP, can we really begin to make a difference.”
The event, held in the Houses of Parliament, was sponsored by Andy Carter, MP for Warrington South who launched and Chairs the School Exclusions and Alternative Provision All-Party Parliamentary Group. He was keen to explore and understand more about the complexities around recruitment and retention in the sector, and the knock-on effects that this crisis is having, especially on the young people. James Grundy MP for Leigh, Lord Mike Storey, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Education Jonathan Gullis MP for Stoke on Trent and former Education Minister, Jacob Young MP for Redcar as well as Beth Prescott and Joe Wheeler from the Centre for Social Justice, and Amanda Fulford from Edge Hill were also all in attendance.
Robust discussion was had by all, with recognition being given to the challenges faced in the sector currently, the inequality of funding between mainstream and Alternative Provision schools, and the issues faced by schools such as Progress Schools who are being held to the Ofsted Inspection framework for independent schools.
Former Education and Schools Minister Jonathan Gullis stressed the importance of prevention rather than cure. He highlighted the need for greater investment in education to save money in the long run for the likes of the health and criminal justice systems, whilst also helping to tackle the current skills crisis. This sentiment is supported by the Learning and Work Institute and The Prince’s Trust who forecasted that the economic cost of youth unemployment in terms of lost national output would increase to £6.9 billion by 2022. This, coupled with research showing that 72% of those with a custodial sentence had received a fixed term exclusion, and the data builds a strong case for prevention rather than cure. Progress Schools aim to prevent young people from becoming NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) after finishing their GCSEs. Through their delivery, Progress Schools aims to boost a young person’s motivations and aspirations, bolster their confidence, and educate them not only about the academics, but also the importance of becoming an active citizen.
The sentiments of those officials involved were similar, with MPs and officials expressing a shock at the lack of funding available to Alternative Provision settings, whilst also acknowledging the immense pressure that our teaching staff are under to support our students. James Grundy MP commented that it is clear that the AP sector requires targeted support and funding from the DfE for example.
Progress Schools will continue to urge the Government to rethink and reset the expectations and perceptions of AP, and it is hoped that with the combined support of those officials who have been involved to date, that this momentum will build to ultimately ensure that the young people accessing any AP provision aren’t typecasted or forgotten about, but instead invested in and empowered to become the very best versions of themselves.