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Continued support – and individualised study programmes with a vocationally geared curriculum – result in more success stories, writes Nacro’s principal and director of education and skills Lisa Capper

Alternative provision remains under the spotlight. In 2016, Ofsted published a report on this area after a three-year survey. More recently, the Commons Education Select Committee has made alternative provision a key focus area. The recent Making the Difference report from the Institute for Public Policy Research  suggests that 99 per cent of the 48,000 young people who leave AP each year do so without gaining five good GCSEs.

While it is refreshing to hear more is being done to quality assure alternative provision, it is clear that underperformance continues. The IPPR has set out an ambitious framework to address this issue in schools.

But the issue does not stop at the age of 16. Around 50 per cent of those who attend alternative provision become Neet (not in education, employment or training) in the six months after they leave. Issues such as family breakdown, offending or poor mental health remain unresolved. Some young people in this situation cannot successfully enrol onto college courses and often find larger institutions daunting. If they find work, too often this is only on temporary or zero-hour contracts and can lead to debt, homelessness or worse.

Nacro has extensive knowledge and experience of working with disadvantaged young people. Many of the young people who attend one of our education and skills centres experience multiple barriers, have had breaks in their schooling or have not been able to complete their school career, and very often have previously attended alternative provision.

We deliver individualised study programmes with a vocationally geared curriculum to around 3,000 students each year aged 16-18, and a smaller number of 14- to 16-year-olds in partnership with local schools, having achieved zero Neets in the past year. All students follow a personal development plan so that barriers to progression are identified and acted upon. Specialist interventions are sought, and time is spent tracking down education records and carrying out assessments, before any student is introduced to vocational study that is linked to a potential job or career pathway.

Technical programmes are taught by experienced staff, often from industry, looking for ways to “give back”; and two-thirds of our students achieved positive progression last year. It is sometimes a bumpy road, but behaviour standards often set by the students, meaningful rewards and positive relationships make a big difference in the interactions and attendance that we see, compared to those reported at predecessor schools.

We have seen first-hand that introduction to work is often a successful way of re-engaging students at post-16 stage, but we need more employers to come forward and support first and second-chance placements. In the North East, We have engaged university students who act as ambassadors with employers.

We have seen many success stories. Jez had been out of statutory schooling for three years before finding Nacro. He left with level 2 functional skills in maths and English and is now an apprentice bricklayer. Anu, who had suffered organised abuse, learned how to manage her pregnancy and care for her newborn baby through our specialist programme for young women and achieved her level 2 functional skills in maths at the same time.

Nacro prides itself on never giving up. We work with young people in the community and in secure settings, where it feels the system is rigid and where others sometimes struggle to meet complex individual need. We know that staff training and making the most of “what works” for each student is key.

Transformational learning through alternative provision is not just an issue for schools. Young people are not able to “shrug off” the issues that have held them back once they hit 16. They need continued support through an extended framework in post-16 education. This could provide a vital lifeline and a very different future for many more young people.