Covid-19 The case for a post-16 transition fund for children from AP

After their GCSEs, 94% of children go onto education, employment or training and stay there for at least six months.

For those excluded from school and educated in alternative provision (AP), that figure drops to 54%.

That’s one in 20 children falling through the gaps from mainstream, compared to almost one in two from AP.

With so much time spent out of school due to COVID-19, and with GCSE grades based on estimates, not results, there’s a real worry the prospects for excluded children will be much, much worse next year.

Two proposals that the Centre for Social Justice is examining are:

First: additional funds for AP schools to help students transition into college, sixth form or training. That money could help with catch-up tutoring, student mentoring or mental health support, for example – the AP school should be allowed to decide what is appropriate for each student.

Second: an extraordinary year 12 fund for children from AP without a destination in September.

Obviously AP schools will want to do everything they can to support students to transition into a positive destination. But there are always some students that fail to get a place, and there is a risk that with students out of the habit of learning and apprenticeship and job opportunities depressed, that cohort will swell under the impact of COVID-19.

An emergency year 12 fund could be made available for AP schools to apply to, for students who, despite all efforts, have no destination come September. AP schools could support those students for an additional year to sit their GCSEs and other level 2 exams and re-apply to college, sixth form, traineeships or apprenticeships. These students would effectively be re-doing year 11. AP schools, who already know the students, are also well-placed to provide the relational support that many will need to re-engage with learning.

Some AP schools already offer post-16 provision but they do not get funded at the pre-16 AP rate but at the standard 16-19 rate, similar to school sixth-forms and FE colleges.

For those AP schools with a sixth form, rather than students re-doing year 11, students could potentially enter their year 12 curriculum directly. In this case, the additional funding would support any academic catch-up and mental health support that is required.

Last year approximately 12,000 pupils ended their year 11 in AP. Assuming similar figures, a transition fund of £1000 per student would cost £12m.

An extraordinary fund for up to one quarter of those students to spend an additional year in AP – funded at the average rate for an AP place – would cost £54m.

Both schemes offered together would cost a maximum of £63m nationwide.

Some forward-thinking councils already fund post-16 AP beyond the standard 16-19 rate. Hammersmith and Fulham local authority supports students at the Bridge AP Academy to study for the highly academic International Baccalaureate diploma programme. While only 4% of excluded pupils nationwide pass their English and maths GCSE, ambitious programmes like this show that with the right level of funding and support, excluded pupils can achieve excellent academic qualifications that allow them to progress successfully to their next phase of education.

Rather than allow more vulnerable children to drop out of education, the government would be applauded for grasping this opportunity to invest in the future of our young people and our country, and supporting excluded children to stay in education.