An Evaluation of Alternative Educational Initiatives
01 March 2003
This report presents the findings from a study commissioned by the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills, evaluating alternative educational provision for young people permanently excluded from school, or who were out of school for other reasons, such as non-attendance. Six alternative educational initiatives (AEIs) were selected for involvement in the study. The AEIs were chosen because they displayed some success at re-engaging young people in the educational process. The overall aim of the evaluation of the AEIs was to examine the effectiveness of the intervention programmes. Effectiveness was to be measured in terms of the AEIs’ success in returning pupils to mainstream education, educational attainment, post-16 outcomes and reducing anti-social behaviour, including offending.
About the study
The six AEIs were visited on a number of occasions in order to gain both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data, included the gathering of information on young people’s attainment, exclusion, bullying, attendance and offending. Offending data were also collected via the administration of a self-report questionnaire with young people attending the projects. Qualitative data were gathered primarily via interviews with young people from each project, their parents/carers, project coordinators, members of AEI staff, and other agencies and organisations working with the young people.
- In terms of educational outcomes, AEIs offered a wide range of accredited opportunities. In addition to achieving education-based certificates, a number of young people received vocational attainments and accreditation linked to personal and social skills development. Approximately half of all the young people registered at the AEIs during the evaluation were awarded some form of accreditation. This success was felt to be noteworthy given AEI youngsters’ past educational performance.
- Young people’s discourse also highlighted a change in their attitude as a result of attending the AEI: they were more willing to learn, they were enjoying learning and furthermore, they were considering the inclusion of education in their future progression.
- Over three-quarters of youngsters interviewed reported an improvement in their behaviour as a result of attending the AEI. Half felt that family relationships had improved, and over three-quarters reported improved relationships with project staff compared to those in school.
- The median attendance rate for all provisions was over 50 per cent. Attendance of nearly half of the sample was better during the course of the evaluation than it had been in the previous year.
- Overall, across the six AEIs, 50 per cent of young people had been recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) between 1997-2001. However, whilst more offences were recorded during the intervention stage, fewer young people were responsible for these. Self-report on crime showed that, by the summer term, about three-quarters of the final sample indicated a reduction in, or cessation of, offending activity, with one in eight acknowledging an increase. Half of those self-reporting criminal activity had no PNC record.
- Different factors were being identified by the young people to account for a reduction in offending behaviour: a change of stimulus and environment (attendance at the project providing less boredom, less ‘hang-factor’ time, different peer groups); a change of prospects (wanting to avoid prison, wanting a job in the future); and a change of attitude (maturation, an internally driven rejection of criminal behaviour or consideration of family’s feelings).
Retention, aspirations and destinations
- All the AEIs were monitoring the destination of students after they had left the projects. However, there appeared to be a need for careful monitoring of the actual destinations of all AEI leavers, especially those leaving during the academic year, to ensure that they were not ‘lost’ from educational provision.
- Young people’s expectations and aspirations appeared to have become more realistic as a result of attending the AEIs. They also showed a more positive attitude to the future in relation to employment, college and training.
- There was a reduction in the number of young people who were unsure about their future progression routes as a result of attending the provision. This suggests that AEIs’ preparation for progression had a beneficial impact, as it increased young people’s awareness of available opportunities.
- Intensive preparation for college work increased youngsters’ awareness of the opportunities available and may increase the likelihood of them successfully accessing college on departure from the AEI.
- Young people gained an awareness of training opportunities as a result of attending the AEIs. Questionnaire and interview respondents showed an increase in their desire to go into training, reflecting more realistic expectations and greater awareness of training opportunities, this might be seen as a direct consequence of attending the AEI. Further efforts to raise awareness of the availability of training opportunities might be beneficial for all young people, including those in school.
Effective practice in alternative provision
- Interviewees considered the quality of relationships between staff and young people as a fundamental aspect of young people’s successful re-engagement (both socially and educationally).
- AEI staff recognised the interplay between the social and emotional well-being of young people and their educational performance. Programmes were therefore supported by a strong pastoral element. As part of this holistic package AEI staff also established links with families and in some cases, extended their support to the parents of AEI referrals.
- AEI programmes were regarded as effective because of their variety, flexibility and the fact that they could be customised to suit individual needs. The physical setting and general ambience of AEIs was also cited as a factor associated with change or effectiveness.
- The high staff-pupil ratios and small group sizes were also identified as a positive feature of the AEIs.
Issues of cost for alternative provision
- The average cost per young person enrolled at the AEIs was £3,800; this was 165 per cent of the average Age-Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) for the LEAs.
- There was a positive relationship between the average per-person expenditure and the retention rate, when comparing the six AEIs.
- In total, 71 per cent of young people went on to desirable destinations at an average cost of £5,200 (137 per cent) of the average per-person expenditure. Early leavers committed on average 29 per cent more crime than those staying for the full academic year (but are not significantly more likely to offend).
- Young people with undesirable destinations were 28 per cent more likely to offend, and on average committed 32 per cent more crime than those with desirable destinations.
Description and processes
- Although the six AEIs represented different approaches to varying levels of disengagement amongst the young people they catered for, there were a number of similarities in their aims and objectives. All the AEIs aimed to deliver quality, relevant and positive learning experiences and opportunities which would contribute (directly or indirectly) to the immediate and long-term future of the young people.
- All the AEIs focused on establishing relationships which were adult-like and based on respect, features which were often said to be lacking in mainstream educational environments.
- A further key feature of the AEIs was that they offered educational programmes which allowed young people to experience success. In addition, AEI programmes were sufficiently flexible to accommodate the changing needs and circumstances of the young people attending the projects.
- Referral to AEIs was usually via a multi-agency or multi-disciplinary panel. Project staff raised as an issue the lack of, and quality of, information received by AEIs when they were referred to projects. A further area for concern was the referral of young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties to projects where staff were not trained to deal with these youngsters.
- AEIs offered responsive and flexible programmes, tailored to the individual needs of young people and strengthened by a safety net of pastoral support. The main differences between AEI programmes related to the degree of dispersal to outside providers, the level of contact time, and whether AEIs provided generic or individualised programmes. Only one AEI was offering full-time provision. AEI staff were unsure whether government requirements for full-time provision from September 2002 would be supported by additional resources. Furthermore, some doubted the suitability of a full-time programme for particular young people, and others feared that demands for full-time provision might affect the overall quality of the programmes.
- A lack of funding was felt to exert a restrictive influence on AEIs, in terms of the range of activities that could be offered and the involvement of other agencies. Meanwhile, short-term funding undermined job security and was viewed as having a detrimental impact on staff retention.
- The flexibility and variety of AEI provision was made possible partly by the inclusion of other agencies as programme providers. They were incorporated into AEI programmes to offer specific areas of expertise (for example, advice on drugs or sexual health), or to provide a different type of learning environment and/or experience (for example, college). Interviewees concluded that successful inter-agency working hinged on regular communication between the agencies involved and was dependent on an understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities, and protocols. Interviewees noted a lack of input from, or liaison with some agencies.
- The main areas for development identified by project staff focused on programme and curriculum development and extending the scope and remit of the provision. However, AEIs were frequently constrained in their ability to implement such developments, due to constraints in funding.
- The majority (two-thirds), of the sample were male, however a significant number (a third), were female. A tenth (10 per cent) of young people in the sample were classified as ‘looked after’. A large number of young people (69 per cent) attending the projects were classified by staff as having some kind of special educational need. The historical data received by AEIs relating to young people’s attendance, bullying behaviour and exclusions was extremely variable. Where data were available, it showed that nearly three-quarters of AEI students had previous attendance problems at school, with nearly a quarter described as long-term persistent non-attenders, and just under half were believed to have been bullies.
- The most common reason for a young person’s referral to the AEI was that they had been permanently excluded from school, usually for some form of aggression, either towards peers or staff.