Ministers ‘in the dark’ about the educational fate of thousands of children

According to new research, at least 20,000 children are being taught in unregistered Alternative Provision units which do not meet basic safeguarding standards.

Yesterday, The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), an organisation dedicated to helping people who live in poor and disadvantaged communities, released new shocking figures about the number of children who are being educated in dangerous conditions.

woman wearing academic cap and dress selective focus photography

Experts revealed that around 20,000 children, many of which will have been excluded from mainstream schools, are being taught in unregistered Alternative Provision units – places that provide education for children and are often arranged by local authorities or schools.

The investigation which was conducted by the CSJ concludes that neither national nor local government has accurate data on where these children – who are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable – are being taught, how many there are, whether they are receiving quality education, or even if they are safe.

Against this backdrop, the CSJ has based its figures on estimated from 2023 School and Alternative Provision census data, but adds that because of a lack of formal reporting of all children in unregistered provision, ‘we do not fully know exactly how many children are in unregistered Alternative Provisions or how many providers there are.’

In one harrowing example of the lack of formal reporting of children who were being taught by Alternative Provisions discovered by the CSJ, was that one council kept a list of less than 10 known providers written on a piece of paper.

As well as this, research discovered examples of unregistered Alternative Provisions providers employing staff who have not had any form of DBS checks and operating without meeting safeguarding standards required in mainstream schools. This is despite the sector serving a high proportion of looked-after children and children with special educational needs among its cohort.

In addition to failing to look after children’s physical and mental wellbeing, experts exposed that taxpayers are being ripped off as unregistered Alternative Provision Units were discovered to cost up to £49,000 per full-term placement. As the government cannot confidently state that children are being well looked after and educated, it begs the question of why these institutions are being forked out for.

‘Ministers are in the dark about the educational fate of thousands of pupils not in mainstream education, many of whom are particularly vulnerable,’ Beth Prescott, Senior Alternative Provision researcher for the CSJ said. ‘While some providers do a fantastic job offering bespoke support to children, without knowing which children are in these settings and where all the settings are, it is impossible to endure that proper standards of teaching, learning, and safeguarding are being maintained.’

The report findings follow the CSJ’s shocking revelation earlier this year that, since the school closures during the pandemic, there has been a surge in the numbers of children frequently missing school.

Experts uncovered that the number of so-called ‘ghost children had doubled since before Covid-19 struck the country. The latest research suggests in addition to the ‘ghost children’ of lockdown, even more children may be lost to any form of visible classroom.

Beth added: ‘The CSJ strongly urges the Department of Education to set up a new light-torch registration framework, se we know where every child is being educated, without putting added pressures on those providers delivering quality and bespoke support.

‘We continue to call for the government to expedite Flick Drummond’s ‘Children Not in School Register Bill’ so that we can ensure the welfare and education of every child.’

Image: MD Duran

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