by Sandro Capozzi, Executive Headteacher

A Milestone Achieved: Reflecting on Academy21's successful DfE Accreditation

Academy21 is now accredited as an online education provider, the first online alternative provision to be so.

In February, we had our visit from Ofsted as part of the Online Education Accreditation Scheme and last month our outcome was confirmed. Academy21 is now accredited as an online education provider, the first online alternative provision to be so. I couldn’t be prouder of the staff, the community, and our students. You can read our report on the Ofsted website or download a copy here.

Our experience with inspection

We embarked on this process not to overhaul our operations for accreditation, but to showcase the quality and impact of our work. The inspection was rigorous, covering over 90 standards across various aspects of our provision

The two-day visit involved observations, interviews, and discussions, offering us a comprehensive review of our practices. It was a chance to explain the intricacies of our provision and priorities, and also to see our systems and progresses examined.

In an era where our regulator is being scrutinised considerably, it is worth pointing out that although rigorous, our experience was that this quality assurance was carried out with professionalism, curiosity and a desire to understand more about the sector.

ofsted report states that pupils' attendance improves and evidence shows pupils make progress.


Highlights from our report

Reflecting on our work from preparation to visit to accreditation, there was a real sense of dedication and a collective commitment to excellence. That entire team effort is reflected in our report, which highlights how our engaging and effective teaching, innovative technology, customer service, and partnership working with schools and LAs comes together.

The feedback itself was affirming, tying in well with our school development planning. Our report highlights many of the key strengths we’re proud of ourselves, including our culture of high ambition and expectations was noted, the positivity our teachers foster, our efforts to boost attendance and progress and aid reintegration, and our safeguarding measures.

A few of the most pleasing comments which speak to an organisation-wide effort, included

· Teachers establish a positive learning environment, welcoming pupils into class by name and encouraging them throughout lessons. This has a demonstrable impact on improving pupils’ confidence and readiness to learn.

· Teachers demonstrate strong subject knowledge alongside a secure understanding of the technical knowledge and skills needed to operate within an online environment. The positive learning environment they create promote pupils’ confidence and this has an important impact on the progress they go on to make.

· Schools and local authorities value the quality and regularity of the information they receive about the pupils they place at Academy21. They praise the responsiveness of the service they receive. In conversation with inspectors one such told us that ‘I am confident that they wouldn’t take on a new pupil if they couldn’t meet that pupils’ needs. They are not in the business of setting up a young person to fail.’

That final comment really resonates. It matters that this is our ethos; it’s important it is recognised not just in what we say, but in what clients see from us. It was also wonderful to see that feedback from parents and school mentors underscored Ofsted’s assessment. All of this matters considerably to us — it is our reason for doing what we do.

The live teaching approach is successful based on feedback from students and teachers


What this means to Academy21

We value continuous improvement at Academy21. As such, we see this report as a point on that journey, not necessarily an end in itself. As children’s needs grow or evolve, and the requirements of schools do the same, we’re left with a sense of resolve following the inspection, and a drive to continuously develop while staying true to our ethos.

That said, this accreditation does feel like a marker. It is a statement of quality that distinguishes our provision in a crowded field. We want our thousands of clients and students, as well as those who might join us, to know that this recognition is not just a badge: it’s a promise of our unwavering commitment to delivering the highest standards of education.

As well as confidence for those we work with, accreditation is also a welcomed validation for our staff — those who have sought to teach online and do so in the AP sector, transforming lives for young people who otherwise might fall out of education.


Looking to the future of online AP

With the Department for Education stating unambiguously that it recommends “all eligible providers to apply for accreditation and recommends that… commissioners of full-time online education for school-age pupils in England should only use accredited providers,” this milestone feels like an important one for us and the sector. Having gone through the process, it is clear why the DfE takes this stance. Alongside them, we too want schools, families, and children to be confident that they are getting the highest standards and that online education can work to support young people and their futures.

For the sector, this scheme signals a shift towards greater recognition and validation for online, which is crucial as the education landscape seeks to take advantage of incoming technologies and manage challenges around recruitment, expertise and workload. I’m also glad to see how this accreditation can help to dispel some of the myths around online alternative provision: that we work in symbiosis with bricks and mortar schools rather than acting as their rivals, for example, or that online is not an inferior option. We understand the sentiment some have after the Covid pandemic, but we know that when done right, learning online is an entirely different experience.

Safeguarding: Students are closely supervised and teachers are aware of vulnerabilities


Final words

Looking ahead, we are committed to building on this success, continuing to innovate and improve our provision. This accreditation is a beginning — a catalyst for further growth and development. It has validated our approach, highlighted our strengths, and provided valuable insights for future growth. As we move forward, we do so with a sense of purpose and a clear vision for continuing to provide exceptional online education to the students who need it most.

Want to know more about our reflections of the process and what the OEAS means for those commissioning online provision? Join our webinar on 24th April at 4pm.  Save your seat here