Vale of Glamorgan Council: Supporting students through alternative provision

Over the past few years, many Local Authorities (LA) have been exploring alternative curriculum provision and education other than at school (EOTAS) solutions for those schools, pupils, and families with additional learning needs.

At Vale of Glamorgan Council, we have a multitude of learners requiring support, including: young people who have been excluded from mainstream education and require an interim offer of education, students from schools that have invested in alternative provision alongside the LA, as well as a range of learners who are classed as our EOTAS students in the Vale of Glamorgan. Most of these young people have failed to engage with their learning in all other settings or provisions and have no other educational offer available to them due to behaviour or risk factors, including knife crime.

We also have some students with mental or physical health issues which means their needs cannot be met in mainstream settings.

When looking for alternative provision that would support the EOTAS team, we wanted something that was accessible, quick to implement and cost-effective. Following some research, we came across Academy21 and after several conversations with key people within the LA, it seemed to be the ideal fit and we decided to trial the service.

We have been using Academy21 since 2018 and in the last year alone, have had more than 20 students sign up to the programme. Depending on our students’ specific needs, we can support them with a mixture of elements including Academy21, one-to-one private tuition as well as wellbeing provision and intervention support.

For us, one of the biggest benefits of Academy21 is that it is quick and responsive; often we will make a referral and within 48 hours, we receive the log-in details, credentials and the systems needed in order to support the students. The speed is key for us, especially when some of these young people won’t have received any kind of education for a substantial period of time.

Many of our students have routinely struggled in mainstream schooling, meaning Academy21 is a viable option for long-term education. Alongside this, 90 per cent of our students are also on a pastoral support plan to provide wellbeing and nurture support, and engagement and activity sessions to help encourage them to get out of the house and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. For us, Academy21 has been invaluable in giving children instant access to education, regardless of their location. For those students with anxiety who are unable to leave the house, the remote learning functionality facilitates these needs without compromising their learning, particularly for core subjects like Maths, English, or Science.

Working closely with our schools, many have expressed experiencing difficulties in class with certain pupils. To address this, teachers can book an allocated time for students to use Academy21 which allows them to remain within the school community but with access to alternative ways to engage with their studies. This also minimises disruption for others and ensures the students can develop a better routine and establish more meaningful relationships.

Improving engagement with learning

We have seen some great improvements in engagement with many of our students. Of course, there will be those who find it more difficult to participate, but for the most part, many of them have been able to excel in a new environment. They have additional time and the flexibility to partake in activities, and also have 24/7 access to the lesson library, meaning they can revisit content and catch up on any missed lessons. It’s that availability and access for us which is so beneficial because for a number of our students, the problem can be as basic as not taking their medication or not being able to get up in the morning.

For example, although a student may miss a lesson at 11am, they are able to recap the session anytime in the afternoon. The platform also allows us to track and monitor their progress through the work and homework tasks that are completed. This then allows us to personalise feedback, whereas previously we would only have data that records either non-attendance or attendance. Now we’re able to see that although there was a non-attendance, the student has since caught up with the session, accessed the virtual library, revisited the lesson content and completed the homework.

Receiving weekly and termly reports has also been essential in terms of monitoring this progress and providing suitable interventions depending on their successes or areas for development. This evidence is useful for us to feedback to parents, as well as checking in with the individual students. For example, we noticed that one of our learners who recently upgraded from foundation maths to intermediate maths, suddenly had a noticeable drop in attendance levels across all subjects. After assessing the reporting and subsequent conversations, we found this was because of the maths lessons. Therefore, we were able to tailor the levels accordingly and drop the maths back down but keep the intermediate level for his other classes.

Business as usual despite Covid-19

Despite Covid-19, our students were able to continue accessing their lessons, as they already had laptops and remote access to Academy21, meaning the transition was seamless with no impact on their learning. On the other hand, we supported the local authority with many young people who weren’t able to do any work due to a lack of resources – providing hundreds of laptops and trying to support with broadband and Wi-Fi requirements.

All in all, we managed to navigate the pandemic successfully as students were simply able to carry on with learning as before. There were no questions around whether they were going to school, how they would get there, if they had to wear a face mask. Remote learning could continue as it had pre-Covid-19, which was particularly useful for those students with anxiety as there was no disruption to their routine. Had this not already been in place, we are sure anxieties for these students would have increased dramatically.

Feedback so far

Some of our parents and students have found Academy21 more challenging than others, however, for us as a local authority, we’ve seen huge benefits in the outcomes for our young people. For all those using Academy21, we have seen that when they do engage, it’s really effective and has meant they have been able to achieve qualifications at the end of it.

I can think of a few young people who have previously experienced disengagement with their learning over the last 18 months, but since using Academy21, they have become more actively involved in lessons every day. There will be young people who haven’t engaged for such a long time and despite the efforts of other alternative provision, the outcomes haven’t been effective. Yet suddenly you put Academy21 on the table, and you start to see a real difference in them. I think for them, being able to start their day and open their laptops when they’re ready has been a major factor in this. They don’t have to get ready early in the morning or rush with school transport. It’s all those other factors that the hustle and bustle of life brings that we simply eradicate for them. Instead, they just log on, join the lesson, and start listening.

Of course, it’s very much based on individual need but Academy21 staff are always on hand to help support children or answer any questions we might have as a team. The good thing with Academy21 is the team are flexible and open to change and are willing to adapt to anything that needs changing or updating, which has been key to our success so far.