Meet the New Executive Head of Academy21
Sandro Capozzi is the new Executive Head at Academy 21, the UK’s leading Alternative Provision (AP) provider. In this article, Sandro tells us all about his experience in education, and how he plans to head up Academy21 and lead its continued growth.
Teaching and Leadership Experience
Sandro began his teaching career as an English teacher, qualifying through the Teach First programme. Now an experienced senior leader, Sandro has a wealth of experience, having led in the areas of inclusion, pastoral care, curriculum and staff development as a deputy headteacher.
Recently, Sandro served as headteacher of our sister school, King’s InterHigh, developing flexible, inspiring educational opportunities for online learners. Combining his past experience with a deep appreciation for the ways in which online alternative provision can support learners to thrive, Sandro is now in a position to make a difference: to build inclusive education in a way that blends the traditional and modern, preparing students for the environments that they will work and live in, and giving them the space and structure to develop not just as learners but individuals.
Using AP to Support Schools’ Inclusive Education Offerings
As Sandro explains, many schools do a wonderful job of building inclusive education, but sometimes it takes more than they can offer – a different environment, a different rhythm to the school day, a different focus. He has seen first-hand the challenges of meeting learners’ individual needs, and how schools can utilise alternative provisions alongside the measures they already have in place to genuinely support learners to re-engage with learning and access the curriculum.
“I’ve seen this time and again and now have the opportunity to build an alternative that provides that difference in a way that blends the traditional and modern, preparing students for the environments they will work and live in and giving them the space and structure to develop not just as learners but individuals.”
Sandro believes AP should sit right at the heart of the education sector!
Of course, all education is important: it is the key to a bright future for our young people. But Sandro feels that those who need AP to ensure they make progress and feel fulfilled deserve our fullest attention and effort.
Sandro explains that while we’ve seen a focus of late, once again, on systemic change aimed to put inclusive education in place, the promise and laudable aims of changes are not fully realised – be it SEND reforms, curriculum reform or investment in AP.
The view Sandro and his team share is that this can change. It requires support for ambitious, inventive leaders but also proper investment in different solutions, staff, environments and students themselves, so every child and young person gets the best chance at success. This includes online.
Alternative Provision Best Practice
In Sandro’s view, great AP has to look not just at what has always been done, but actually at where we are now as a society. He breaks this down in terms of how we adapt our teaching to young people’s lives and needs, and how we view alternative provision and online learning.
Alternative Provision Within and Beyond Education
We need to consider how students live their lives today. We need to think about what we want them to be able to cope with in life and the capabilities they’ll require. We should be looking into how we can ensure the students in our care can make the most of opportunities that come their way and nurture qualities such as resilience, decision-making and effective communication, alongside academic knowledge, which is a foundation for these skills.
Once we fully understand our young learners’ lives in context, their current barriers to learning, their current needs and their future requirements to move forward in life, we can effectively tailor the support we offer them.
We also need to recognise the strong outcomes of the young people who successfully access online AP and maintain high expectations of every learner. We hear time and time again from the educators we partner with how their vulnerable pupils could so easily have left school with less than they deserve – too few qualifications, difficulty with interpersonal skills or self-belief. Yet with our tailored provision, experienced and dedicated staff, and a shared belief that ‘no learner is lost’, those young people have been able to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Understanding the Alternative Provision Landscape
As educators, it is important to be open-minded about AP programmes: how they are taught and through what medium – i.e. online. Being forward-thinking, flexible and ambitious is key.
Sandro explains that this doesn’t mean eschewing established excellent practice but making sure we use all the tools we have available to us so that students get to benefit from great teaching, great support and great opportunities.
One of these tools is undoubtedly online learning – it unlocks the barriers that many students face and can ensure a consistently high-quality experience. It is also flexible enough to work alongside other services that students need. Sandro believes it should already be a bigger part of the conversation when it comes to how we best serve our learners.
Understanding how AP can be implemented flexibly is also core to fully recognising its potential. As many settings find, using AP as an early intervention or respite tool can be incredibly powerful.
And while the reintegration of a learner into a mainstream setting is certainly viewed as a positive outcome, it’s important to realise that this isn’t always possible. In those cases, AP needs to provide long-term support, which is what we do at Academy21.
Challenging Misconceptions Around Online Learning
The forced learning from home during lockdown has perhaps skewed people’s notions of online learning. Education settings were on the back foot and were challenged with delivering a curriculum online that was designed to be taught in school. Teachers were thrown into scenarios where they were having to deliver lessons over devices that had been created to use in a face-to-face setting.
Online AP, however, is purpose-built for online learning, participation, and excellent teaching. The curriculum and its delivery are not a ‘best-fit’ solution to an unexpected situation; they are tailor-made and have been fine-tuned to support learners who will benefit from learning in this way.
Learning from and Collaborating with Others
There are many brilliant examples of AP being used successfully in a number of settings. Highly motivated by collaborative and partnership working, Sandro explains how we need to watch, listen and learn from these settings as a whole sector, and then amplify it when they share their practice.
AP is best implemented by those who are deeply invested, knowledgeable and working in collaboration with others – school leaders, local providers, charities, government, industry and so on.
Of course, central to all this collaboration is listening to young people and their families, ensuring they can make informed decisions and work in partnership with providers. It’s a team effort – young people do not spend all their time in one space, so it cannot be done alone. Integrated, connected plans and effective communication are key.
“We need local solutions that develop pathways for young learners for whom mainstream, physical school does not fit. Local decision-making, however, needs to be backed by expertise from elsewhere and investment so we have the places these students need.”
The Benefits of AP for Vulnerable Learners
In terms of the benefits of AP to students, Sandro outlines what those benefits are and how best to achieve them.
When students in AP are supported by high expectations and the right support, intervention and environments through which to access it, AP works incredibly well.
Offering such support is often a resource issue; currently, such provision is a challenge for many organisations, so there isn’t that latitude to be able to put it in place consistently.
Sandro cites brilliant examples of schools creating in-house inclusion units, collaborating with off-site providers, and using teaching colleagues in AP units or quality online providers to ensure students maintain a high-quality education so they can transition to other settings when they are ready.
“There are great examples where schools bring in outside providers to advise or run services for young people to help them use AP – not just to slow down the impact of present challenges but also to reshape how they feel about education.”
What Makes Academy21 a Leading AP Provider?
Sandro identifies the ways in which Academy21 goes above and beyond when it comes to online AP:
- Flexibility – schools (or indeed, any educational setting) can turn to Academy21 to solve issues that face them locally, be it a short-term placement, something longer term, a handful of subjects or something more comprehensive, home- or school-based learning. We can create something that works for them, whilst maintaining high standards. Students can get moving with their online learning extremely quickly in a learning environment that feels comfortable.
- Support for schools – many schools are in need of quality AP having exhausted other avenues. Academy21 is that solution, helping those caring, passionate school leaders to reset a young person in need. Often all that is needed is a change in environment, some space and the right support. We can do that in a range of ways, from creating cycles that work for schools to providing guidance on the role of the mentor in school.
- Incredible teaching team – our teaching practice, pastoral approach and attitude to young learners is patient and aspirational. The Academy21 teachers have chosen to work in online AP, and all firmly believe they can help each and every learner, and that is incredibly powerful. They are all highly motivated, enthusiastic and adept at engaging with learners online. They work as a team to share inclusive practices and have high expectations for all students. Academy21 teachers know how to build professional academic relationships with learners, which has a direct impact on their students’ progress.
- A commitment to innovation – whether it is online pedagogies, the use of AI or new innovative software, it’s crucial that we don’t just look at innovative tools as novel or something niche that’s done elsewhere. We need to actually take a step back and ask if we should integrate it. And if the answer’s yes, then do it!
The Future of Alternative Provision
In his new role as Academy21’s Executive Head, Sandro will be at the forefront of education and be a part of something that secures a more sustainable and ambitious teaching experience for many young people in need.
“I’m interested in changing the narrative on online education as not just something we did in the crisis of the pandemic but a flexible, quality solution for many students. A solution that every school, PRU, special school should look to integrate to compliment or enhance the quality of what each learner receives.”
As Sandro states, Academy21 is already offering high-quality, wrap-around educational provision across England and Wales.
We’ve supported over 4500 pupils from more than 800 different establishments in more than 140 local authority areas this year. We’re already making an incredible difference to so many.
But Academy21 is able to grow further, and Sandro plans to ensure more young people can benefit from the quality it provides. As more schools realise the potential of online AP, more students will be able to access learning that meets more of their needs – whether that’s their academic requirements and study skills, the development of their interpersonal skills, pastoral support for their mental wellbeing, or a combination of these.
With his team, Sandro aims to address the real gap in intervention. He explains that the same challenges, the same structures and the same solutions are proffered, yet beyond education, in the lives of learners, so much has changed – often radically.
Under Sandro’s leadership, Academy21 is keen to see these changes reflected in AP. This means recognising that, nationally, the current model of AP needs a rethink. It also means embracing the impact of online learning and understanding how flexibility can work – and before that can happen, there is work to be done in terms of challenging misconceptions around online learning and elevating its status in education-focused conversations.
“Our young learners have immediate goals to achieve, which we fully support them with, but they are also future members of society. It is our responsibility to ensure that they are well-equipped to navigate whichever path they may take in life.”
Sandro believes a focus on learning environments is key here. Online AP supports educational settings to consider how to shape an environment in a way that meets individuals’’ needs. Creating the right norms and conditions and using the right language all contribute to helping learners make good choices – now and in the future.
What’s Next for Academy21?
Sandro is excited about many aspects of his new role.
Hearing from and about the young people we serve – we want to fully understand what is working for them, and what else they need to make their experience fulfilling and to help them transition to their next steps – whether that’s getting back into school, onto a new educational experience, or into the world of work.
Working with partners to innovate and grow – visiting schools, and speaking to teachers and leaders, will help us continue to shape our offering.
We want to spread the word about what we can do to support students, but also how we can adapt to meet local needs. It’s these partnerships that will ultimately see the huge benefits of online AP acknowledged more widely and improve the system as a whole.
Adding to our 750+ schools – seeing the business continue to grow means more schools in need are implementing a solution we know works, and more vulnerable learners are being given the opportunity to succeed.
“Academy21 is a game-changer, solving staffing, consistency and access issues. More need to see its benefits – that’s what motivates me.”
A Passion to Help All Learners Thrive
Sandro has an MA in Educational Leadership and a wealth of experience when it comes to inclusion. He firmly believes that all learners can thrive through an engaging curriculum and high-quality support that recognises student effort and enables learners from all contexts to achieve personal goals.
He is driven by ensuring students have an inclusive, engaging educational experience that motivates them to achieve their aspirations. Having led on SEND and inclusion, Sandro has a considerable understanding of the barriers to learning that many young people face. He has also seen the huge positive impact that alternative provision can have on learners facing challenges that prevent them from learning in the traditional sense.
“I have an absolute passion for supporting the life chances of all young people, especially those with greater barriers to success.
“We need more flexible, inventive education for many learners that maintains high standards for them but allows them to engage with and enjoy their education. Schools do an immense job in challenging circumstances, but the natural structures of education in physical schools are much harder to cope with for some – but they deserve to learn in an environment that does fit them well.”
Sandro has sat on the local Behaviour and Attendance Panel, working with other school leaders, AP providers and the local authority to put together the best plans for placing students needing respite and a change in their provision.
“My previous roles leading on inclusion, SEND and pastoral care gave me invaluable experience of the realities for many young people of school – and the anxiety, demand, and lack of fulfilment they felt. It makes one realise that the power a school holds to be flexible but also maintain their ambition and quality of service for a child, is key.”
Sandro has also contributed to working parties looking at the best provision for vulnerable learners, including high-quality internal inclusion support for the students in his care. As a headteacher at Inspired Online Schools – a leading provider of online education that allows learners with additional needs to access a transformative education – Sandro has applied his passion to support all learners.