Equity of curriculum experiences for pupils who are educated other than at school (EOTAS)
This report provides an overview of the curriculum experiences for pupils attending EOTAS providers across Wales. It evaluates the equity of the curriculum offer for pupils placed in EOTAS provisions, including their access to a full-time or part-time curriculum offer. It also considers how well local authorities evaluate and improve the quality and impact of provision and reports on transition between EOTAS and schools or post-16 provision. We highlight examples of good practice in local authorities where the quality of the curriculum offer supports the needs of pupils successfully and effectively supports their return to mainstream education, further education, training or employment.
The report draws on evidence from 17 responses we received from surveys sent to all local authorities. In addition, we met with lead officers for EOTAS from 19 local authorities. As a result, we gathered information from all but one local authority in Wales. We also met with representatives from school improvement services and visited eight PRUs. During these visits, we met with the lead of the PRU and leaders for the curriculum. In total, we engaged with over 40 pupils across the eight PRUs. Evidence from nine PRU inspections since January 2019 is also included.
PRUs and mainstream schools should:
- Share practice with each other and work with local authorities, pupils, and parents to strengthen opportunities for pupils to return to mainstream education
- Monitor pupils’ attendance closely to ensure they access their full provision and, in particular, to safeguard pupils where they access education part-time in a different provider
Local authorities and their school improvement services should:
- Support more pupils to return to mainstream school where appropriate through:
- strengthening short term intensive support in EOTAS provision
- ensuring placement decisions are taken promptly and identify an agreed duration, clear roles and responsibilities and a review date
- Secure curriculum provision in PRUs which meets the needs of all pupils working with the management committee and teacher in charge
- Secure curriculum provision in EOTAS providers other than PRUs
- Strengthen the quality assurance and monitoring processes to ensure effective delivery of the curriculum offer in all EOTAS providers
- Robustly challenge and monitor the attendance of pupils across EOTAS providers including the appropriate use of part-time timetables and pastoral support programmes
The Welsh Government should:
- Update and ensure delivery of the EOTAS Framework for Action including all relevant accompanying EOTAS guidance to reflect the recommendations of this report
What our thematic review said
Sometimes, local authorities need to arrange for pupils to access education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). This may be because a pupil is ill, has been or is at risk of being excluded or struggles to access school due to their social and emotional or well-being needs.
Since the pandemic, local authorities report an increase in the referral rates for EOTAS provision. This is particularly evident for local authority arranged tuition services. There has also been an increase in referrals for younger primary-aged pupils. More pupils being referred have significant social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, rather than behavioural needs, which has historically been the case.
Generally, pupil referral units (PRUs) are making appropriate progress towards delivery of Curriculum for Wales, in many cases supported suitably by school improvement services. The breadth and balance of the curriculum offer across PRUs is appropriate and improving. This is particularly evident for older secondary-aged pupils with increasingly diverse qualification pathways that support pupils to access further education, training or employment. Nearly all PRUs have strengthened their whole provision approaches to emotional health and well-being in response to their pupils’ needs. Leaders of PRUs have invested in professional learning to improve staff’s understanding of specific approaches to support their pupils’ emotional health and well-being. In most cases, these approaches underpin the curriculum offer strongly.
Whilst all local authorities expect EOTAS pupils to access a full-time curriculum offer where appropriate, too many pupils only have access to part-time education. Across Wales, the use and quality of pastoral support programmes (PSPs) to support part-time arrangements are inconsistent. Local authorities do not monitor these arrangements robustly enough and this impacts on children’s and young people’s right to full-time education.
Overwhelmingly, pupils prefer attending their PRU to mainstream school. Very few pupils interviewed missed or wanted to return to their mainstream school. They feel listened to and involved in decisions about the curriculum, particularly for older secondary-aged pupils. They articulate their concerns for return to mainstream education well and talk knowledgably about what they perceive to be the barriers. They strongly believe their well-being is a priority in PRUs and as a result they feel supported, listened to and able to access learning through specialist support. This is often in contrast to what they experienced in their mainstream school. As a result, most pupils’ behaviour improves during their time at their PRU.
There have been improvements in the use of decision-making panels across nearly all local authorities to determine the EOTAS provision required for individual pupils. These improvements include a wider range of panel members with appropriate expertise and an improved quality of information submitted by mainstream schools to inform the decision-making process more accurately.
Local authority processes for agreeing the length of EOTAS placements and review of placements arrangements remain inconsistent. Where practice is most effective, placement length and quality assurance arrangements, including review dates for pupil placements, are agreed as part of the initial local authority panel meeting. This provides clear expectations, roles and responsibilities for the EOTAS provider, mainstream school and local authority monitoring officers.
Too many primary and younger-aged secondary pupils remain long-term in EOTAS providers. As a result, only a very few of these pupils return successfully to mainstream school. Older secondary pupils remain in EOTAS providers with a focus on gaining qualifications, which equip them with the necessary skills for their next destinations. Overall, the local authority reported numbers of pupils leaving EOTAS providers who do not access further education, training or employment are low.
The main barriers to the successful reintegration of pupils to mainstream schools include the increasing levels and complexity of pupil needs, particularly for social emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, social emotional, behavioural difficulties (SEBD) as well as other underlying additional learning needs (ALN). Consequently, these levels of need can impact the duration of placement for pupils. In many local authorities, PRUs are operating more in line with special schools with pupil placements being long-term at the PRU.
A minority of local authorities’ processes to quality assure and support improvement in EOTAS providers are underdeveloped. Quality assurance of the curriculum offer in pupil referral units (PRUs) is more robust than in external EOTAS providers commissioned by local authorities.