Alternative Provision Blog - June 2021

Posted 7th June 2021

This is part of our Alternative Provision blog series and this month sees Rob Belbin, Development Coach for Alternative Provision blog about his learnings and experiences in engaging Alternative Provision settings in the School Games.

For several years the School Games team have been trying to engage Alternative Providers, often the response from schools was that activity is not appropriate, the setting is inappropriate or that timings don’t work because young people are only placed for a few days, or that a one off event is not helpful for individual young people’s development. The other challenge was that schools were simply not replying at all which was an indication we had something wrong!

By looking at these responses it was obvious we had some questions to ask ourselves, what could we do differently and why do we want to do it? It was clear we were unable to answer these questions without talking to the experts within Alternative Provision and the Headteachers from across our county. In addition, we equipped ourselves with knowledge by reading the Timpson and Daniels reports. This all gave us a very clear answer to our why and spotlighted how what we do could have a very clear and positive impact for young people at risk of exclusion as well as those already within specialist education.

 Headteachers told us that the work would sit very comfortably within their school improvement plans, the link with positive behaviour management is very high on their agendas. It also became quickly apparent that the Local Authorities were focussed on anything positive that could help reduce the risk of exclusion or help Alternative Providers on their key objective of reintegrating young people back into mainstream education.

Exploring why young people wouldn’t engage was a key part of our planning, we identified the below common themes.

  1. Different start and finish points meant every young person was in a very different place on their own development journey. 
  2. There was little motivation to become involved in positive physical activity especially traditional sport which had often been a cause of anxiety.
  3. Time and choice were really important often confidence and/or resilience was low. 
  4. Opportunities to be involved in positive social interaction with a common goal where young people could feel part of the solution were few and far between. 

With all this insight and as our worlds moved remotely; we knew we had an opportunity to think completely differently. We wanted to focus on motivation and choice while creating a programme that had many different start and finish points allowing engagement over a longer period of time. By looking at outcomes rather than sports we established an online offer which allowed young people to engage and choose what best suited them when the time was right. Young people could choose strands from personal challenge, teamwork challenge, fitness and leadership. They set their own goals and simply let us know when they had completed them. Our outcome focussed themes were: Building Confidence, Resilience, Being Communicative and Togetherness.

Rewarding and motivating young people was also really important, having listened to them we knew having positive messaging when they had worked really hard was our best chance of keeping them engaged. We devised a rewards-based system that enabled schools to recognise success and showed young people they each have a positive contribution to make that culminates in joint success. Our aspiration is to use this system to create digital badges as you would find on fitness-based platforms.

We continue to learn, adjusting and co-producing what we do with Senior Leaders and young people is at the heart of our ethos. Its’ always easy to be defensive when things don’t work, or suggestions are made however we embrace these learnings as the only way we will grow our programme is to listen to those who know best.

As you explore how you can engage more young people form Alternative Provision (or those at risk of exclusion) we would suggest the 3 top tips below:

  1. Take your time to listen to the experts. Alternative Providers, Headteachers, SENCO’s and Young people will all help you discover your WHY!
  2. Think strategically, engage your Local Authorities or county health boards they often meet with providers and talk through challenges. Your strategic contacts are your best advocates, they will help show others your initiative is part of the solution.
  3. Don’t get caught out by trying to make fit what you think is the right thing. By starting with a blank piece of paper, using your insight then adding your creativity you will be successful.

We know that sport and physical activity has such an important positive role to play in each young person’s development. Often the young people who don’t engage are the ones who would benefit most, this audience is no exception. By being creative, strategic, connected and thoughtful you will show how much of a positive difference what you are trying to achieve can make.

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