This is a joint blogpost from Education Datalab and The Difference.

The Difference is a new training programme, creating the next generation of school leaders, upskilled in supporting pupil mental health and reducing exclusion from school. Leaders spend two years teaching in alternative provision while studying a specialist leadership course, focusing on mental health, safeguarding and improving outcomes for vulnerable students. Learn more about The Difference here.

Pupils can end up leaving mainstream school to attend alternative provision for a vast number of reasons.

These range from official exclusion on grounds of behaviour and safety, to unofficial exclusion (as covered in Kiran’s recent IPPR research), to the need for a specialist education to accommodate mental health problems, eating disorders or teenage pregnancy.

Whatever the reason, it is hoped that once a pupil is in alternative provision they get a quality education and the support that they may acutely need. But for some pupils in alternative provision, we know very little about the quality of education received.

Independent alternative provision

As with mainstream education, some alternative provision is state-run, and other alternative provision independent – with this latter group usually commissioned by mainstream schools, other (state) alternative providers or local authorities.

We don’t know how many children are in the independent alternative provision sector. The alternative provision census recorded that there were 12,400 pupils in independent establishments in January 2016 – but we think the majority of this group were in independent special schools, which also fell within the scope of this census.

However, two in five secondary schools may be commissioning independent alternative provision as part of ‘off-site alternative provision’ [PDF] and more than one in five may use this for a full academic year or longer for their students. Schools don’t have to report on this to local authorities or the Department for Education, so we don’t know how many pupils are accessing independent alternative provision through this route.

And this is only one of several things we don’t know about the sector.

A significant unknown is the quality of education received. Statistics are available on the inspection outcomes of mainstream schools, and of all independent establishments – but not specifically for independent alternative provision.

And attempting to look into the issue isn’t straightforward.

Neither the DfE nor Ofsted maintain a central register of independent alternative provision, and in data that the DfE publishes, independent alternative providers are recorded simply as independent establishments, along with mainstream independent schools[1]. So, there’s no easy way to get a handle on the topic.

That’s where we’d like your help.

The wisdom of the crowd

In the recent Key Stage 4 league tables, 882 independent establishments are recorded, excluding independent special schools which are categorised separately.

We think a manual task is needed to look at each of these establishments in turn and make a decision on whether it is a mainstream independent school, or independent alternative provision. (A note on why we don’t think there’s a smarter way to do this follows as the end of this post.)

Nearly 900 establishments is not a small number for any individual to look into.

But it would only take 45 people to each look at 20 independent establishment for the whole list to be reviewed. Spending at most three minutes per establishment, looking at 20 establishments would only take an hour.

So we’d like to enlist your help, producing a crowdsourced list of independent alternative provision.

What we’d like you to do

Embedded below is a document containing the details of all independent establishments that featured in the 2017 KS4 league tables.

What we’d like you to do:

  1. Go to the embedded Google Sheet document
  2. Find some establishments that haven’t been classified
  3. Search for the establishment online
  4. Record whether the establishment is independent alternative provision or not. Where it is, save the website text that has led you to that conclusion and the web address of the relevant page
  5. Record your name and, if you have one, your Twitter handle against records you’ve looked at

Instructions on how to determine whether an establishment is alternative provision or a mainstream school can be found on the first sheet of the Google Sheet document – please read this before starting.

We’re hoping to complete the task by Monday 26 March. Could you spend an hour this evening, or over the weekend, classifying the establishments?

We’re asking people to look into 20 establishments each, but please feel free to tackle more!

And to make a start, we’ve already classified a number of establishments.

Once the exercise has been completed we’ll conduct some light-touch review of the data. We’ll then join the data to KS4 results data and inspection outcomes data, and will blog on the results.

Open the Google Sheets document in a new tab.

Why it’s not easy to classify independent establishments using data alone

Why can’t we identify independent alternative provision just by looking at characteristics of the establishments?

Having tried to do this, we just don’t think there’s a way of doing it with the same level of accuracy as looking at each individual establishment.

Our starting point was to look at KS4 data – wondering if there was some combination of pupil numbers, GCSE entries and attainment that gave a clear separation of independent establishments into mainstream schools and alternative provision.

But while this seems to work in some cases, it doesn’t lead to as a clear a categorisation as we’d like. And, most importantly, while attainment data will be lower on average for independent alternative provision than for independent mainstream schools, we don’t want to apply an attainment-based filter when coming up with our list of independent alternative provision, for fear of skewing analysis we then want to go on to carry out of independent alternative provision inspection ratings.

And whatever other rule we came up with to test there seemed to be at least one exception. (Are independent alternative providers all inspected by Ofsted, as opposed to the other approved inspectorates? Not the case. Would it be correct to think independent alternative providers always have no designated religious character? Apparently not.)

If you do think we’re missing something obvious, please feel free to make a suggestion in the comments below, but we haven’t managed to come up with a set of rules that we think will work with enough accuracy.

Why we’re doing this

A quick word on our motivation for doing this. It’s worth saying that it isn’t because we have particular reason to think that the inspection outcomes of independent alternative provision are markedly different to those of other groups of establishments – much worse, for example.

In fact, we suspect that the inspection ratings of independent alternative provision as a sector will be close to those of either mainstream schools or state alternative provision[2].

But, until we have the data, we just don’t know – and to us that seems an important evidence gap to try and fill. When independent alternative provision forms a significant part of some young people’s education, as a minimum we should be able to say how that group of institutions is performing.

Please do contribute to our attempt to investigate independent alternative provision by Monday 26 March. Once the exercise has been completed, we’ll blog again here with the findings.

Go to the Google Sheets document and classify 20 establishments.

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1. A point that Datalab have raised previously.
2. It is worth saying that between those two things there exists quite a large gap [PDF].