This report outlines the outcomes of the consultation on the Council’s proposals to restructure Alternative Provision in Medway. The Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee is asked to consider the report and make comment for inclusion within the Outcomes of Consultation report to Cabinet.
The Programme Lead – School Organisation and Capital Services introduced the report which provided the outcomes of the consultation on the Council’s proposals to restructure Alternative Provision (AP) in Medway. He explained that the proposals were to address some of the recommendations in the 2018 AP review, which was attached at Appendix 5 to the report. There had been 158 responses to the consultation, with the majority supportive of a Centre of Excellence but with differing views in how that might be established.
The Executive Headteacher of the Inspiring Change Multi Academy Trust (ICMAT) then addressed the Committee, explaining that the Rowans AP was part of the ICMAT and was rated ‘outstanding’ and achieved positive outcomes. She also explained about the development of The Beeches, an AP free school which, when open, would offer early intervention support for children at Key Stage 1, 2 and 3. It would provide outreach support in mainstream schools to prevent exclusions and would be focused on reintegrating pupils back in to mainstream when appropriate and ready to do so. She gave examples of national projects and programmes The Rowans was involved in, which included working with the Department for Education. She welcomed a policy change in AP which would provide a cohesive, joined up approach, which she felt was needed to move AP forward.
Three people representing Will Adams AP then addressed the Committee. Firstly, an ex-student spoke about his experience at Will Adams. He explained that at 15 years old, he had a diagnosis of ADHD and anger management difficulties and had received multiple mainstream exclusions. He was involved in drugs, violence and crime and his parents, school and the police were struggling to find a solution to help him. He was then placed at Will Adams AP and he found the quiet, relaxed, close knit environment one in which he could thrive. He attended school every day and was willing to learn, eventually becoming Head Student. He was now 20, happy, healthy and with an ambition to join the Royal Engineers. He thanked Will Adams AP for turning his life and the life of others, around.
Secondly, a parent of two students at Will Adams explained how it had helped her children. She explained that both her children, who both had a diagnosis of ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorder, had attended mainstream school and because they were high-functioning, they had not met the criteria for an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Their mainstream school had tried to put strategies in place for both children but these had been unsuccessful. Her son was expelled after reacting to bullying behaviour that he had been experiencing for over three years and was moved to Will Adams where he received the right support, with access to in-school counselling and settled very well. Her daughter subsequently joined Will Adams and although she presented with challenging and aggressive behaviour on starting, this was managed well by the school as staff were well trained in this and had a great understanding of autism. She praised the support and communication from the school and its nurturing environment, which she believed had helped her children both go on to succeed and achieve.
The Headteacher of Will Adams AP then addressed the Committee. She explained that Will Adams was a Key Stage 4 specialist provision, which provided a holistic wrap around service for some of Medway’s most vulnerable young people. She explained the school offered a bespoke curriculum, tailored to the pathway of each student and commented that students often returned for support, highlighting the need for a post 16 provision. She also explained that the AP was graded consistently ‘Good’ by Ofsted and its results continued to be above the AP national averages. She commented on the AP’s positive working relationship with mainstream schools and the sharing of best practice on matters such as understanding children in crisis and acknowledged the need for a clear strategy to develop consistent and good quality cohesive working across all provisions, welcoming the opportunity to establish Medway as a centre of excellence for AP. She expressed her concerns relating to combining two AP schools onto one site and the risks this could raise in relation to gang related issues and other social difficulties and urged the Council to support Will Adams in continuing to successfully educate some of the most vulnerable young people.
A short video, in support of retaining Will Adams AP, was then played to the Committee.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Mitigating risk relating to one site – in response to questions about how the concerns relating to the amalgamation of the AP schools onto one site and the impact this may have in terms of gang rivalry and postcode wars, officers explained that the concerns around a single site had been raised during consultation and officers were adapting proposals moving forward to take into account the views expressed. Taking this and wider feedback received into account, it was more likely to move to a model which developed a centre of excellence with hubs or satellite sites to reduce this risk and also enable access to the provision by young people across Medway.
· Inclusive environment – comments were made that improvements were still needed to create an inclusive environment across Medway’s mainstream schools and there was recognition that wherever possible, children should be supported to remain in mainstream settings or be supported to return to mainstream where possible and appropriate to do so. Improved partnership working with schools would enable staff to be trained in skills to identify new strategies to support young people in crisis.
· Future model – officers confirmed that there was a need to develop a centre of excellence, increase reintegration back into mainstream education, share best practice specifically within AP provision and provide more outreach support to prevent exclusions, where possible. Specifics of the model were still to be finalised but it would be more flexible to offer outreach and respite opportunities and would enable improved partnership working, sharing of best practice and knowledge. Officers undertook to provide an update to the Committee when available.
· Support of Early Help – officers explained that, as part of its children’s services improvement journey, the authority would be working with Essex County Council in terms of strengthening its Early Help services which would also contribute to the partnership working of the AP centre of excellence model going forward.
· Academisation of Will Adams – officers confirmed that, as Will Adams was a Good school, the Council would not be looking to force academisation.
The Committee noted the outcome of the consultation and welcomed a centre of excellence for Alternative Provision in Medway but recommended that this not be provided from one site and requested further updates to be reported to the Committee.