Alternative Provision – Collaboration across the Sector

Posted 18th May 2021

This is part of our Alternative Provision blog series and this month sees Development Coach for Alternative Provision- Karen Erikson share her insight from engaging Alternative Provision in her area.

Alternative Provision settings are generally defined as places that provide education for children who can’t go to mainstream schools who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive a suitable education. Within the School Games Engaging Alternative Provision guide, it asks the question; Are young people in all education settings accessing the life changing benefits of the School Games? In the context of Alternative Provision (AP), can we confirm this to be the situation and, if not, why not?

For the School Games, this is an area that presents different barriers and challenges and looks very different across the country when we consider how to engage pupils attending these settings in our offer. I want to focus on collaboration; how do we embed this approach so that schools, no matter what the setting, work together and offer equal and inclusive opportunities to Sport and Physical Activity? Within the School Games, how do we develop an engagement process where all schools- be it mainstream, Special, AP, alongside SGOs, work together to share practice and provide participation for all?

The School Games has an AP resource (consisting of a suite of illustrations designed to spark conversation around AP) which have been created alongside young people from AP settings. One of the illustrations focuses on the AP Facility.

AP Facility.png

As we know, all facilities are different for any educational setting and there are excellent AP facilities out there. However, there is sometimes a generalised perception, and a reality, that they aren’t as welcoming in their façade and appearance as some other settings. The illustration young people have created shows a house-like building with a long pathway and spiked fence. One side of the illustration is shown in the ‘light’ – reflecting how pupils themselves feel about their facility; and the other is in the ‘dark’, where pupils felt others perceived their school (or indeed how they did before attending).

The prompt questions that accompany this resource talk about myths, and how young people might feel about their facility. They also prompt discussion around access to inclusive school sport and the relationships that may exist between different schools. I recently conducted some exploratory research and asked practitioners in my area to tell me the first word or statement that came into their head when they think of AP facilities. Their responses were as follows:

  • Underfunded
  • A bit of a mystery
  • Sporty, able pupils with limited space
  • Pupils with low self-worth, self-esteem
  • A place where pupils go when mainstream hasn’t worked 
  • Poor facilities for PE, tend to do more OAA (Outdoor Adventurous Activity)
  • A place for pupils with challenging behaviours

Indeed, when I spoke to some staff within AP settings, they reiterated their lack of space for quality physical activity and said all PE had to be offsite, hence OAA involvement. For many pupils, even though the facility might look to be lacking it is still their safe-haven. For others, their facilities add to their lack of self-esteem and contribute to a lack of pride for somewhere they are seen to belong.

Challenges and Barriers linking to participation within School Games:

I also asked practitioners what they perceived to be the main challenges to participation for APs in the School Games? What inhibits a collaborative approach and stops pupils from an AP taking part in their SG offer? The top 3 responses maintained a common theme:

  • Lack of response
  • Communication
  • No relationship

Respondents from AP and the School Games workforce have said they are sometimes anxious to involve pupils in sporting opportunities due to perceptions around behaviours and the possibility of conflict. Also, pupil numbers (lack of) to form a team inhibits participation.

Advice and Support

What do we have to offer all parties to ensure an inclusive approach for young people, no matter what setting they are being educated in? How do we ensure the young people within an AP setting have an opportunity to develop life skills, such as positive social interaction and personal achievement, through taking part in their local School Games offer?

  • ‘School Games and Engaging with Alternative Provision Schools’ guide has advice and 10 Top Tips to support engagement, case studies
  • The AP School Games illustration cards are tools to understand feelings, supporting an opportunity to engage pupil voice (To access these please contact your AP Development Coach)
  • Your County Lead Inclusion school will help with developing communication and building relationships
  • Increase knowledge; listen to this audio file recorded by PRUsAP (Sarah Dove, President) who are the association of PRUs and Alternative Provision body representing schools nationally.

As practitioners and providers, we must endeavour to be:

  • Collaborative – invite, reassure, allay fears
  • Proactive with our communication, persevere to build relationships
  • Ensure our offer is varied, meaningful, and relevant for all

We ‘can’ do this, it just takes time!

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