New hope for those excluded
Department for Education data shows that the number of exclusions from UK state schools is increasing year on year. During the school year 2014-15, 5,800 children were removed from mainstream schools. Disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for these exclusions and over 80% of them are from secondary schools. The majority of people remain blissfully unaware of the alternative provisions that exist for these excluded children – somehow disruptive children disappear and we assume they’ve been moved to another more suitable school.
So you can be forgiven for not having heard of TBAP the first multi-academy trust providing alternative provision education in the UK. It was founded just three years ago as a tri-borough alternative provision in London and provides education for children who have experienced difficulties with their learning and behaviour in mainstream school. There are both primary and secondary TBAP schools (up to GCSE) and the trust is growing fast – we now have one in Cambridge which takes referrals from schools across the city and surrounding villages.
The key to TBAP’s success appears to be a mixture of excellent teaching, small well-supported classes, and a broad curriculum. TBAP says that it works closely with ‘families and outside agencies to give learners the skills and resilience they need to be safe, to raise their expectation of themselves as successful citizens, and to encourage them to be life-long learners’. Working with the International Baccalaureate (IB) as we do, this sounds remarkably familiar and so we were intrigued to be able to visit the new TBAP post-16 alternative provision Academy in London to find out more.
Considering the education history and family circumstances of the majority of excluded children, the enormity of the task their teachers face shouldn’t be underestimated. Yet chaotic family backgrounds are no reason to assume that these children are not as academically able as any others. In many cases their lives outside of school have been such that they haven’t had enough time in school to know where their interests or strengths lie. It is this understanding, coupled with a hefty amount of determination and compassion that has led to the opening of the first TBAP post-16 AP Academy which opened to its 17 students this September, all of whom have come from other non-mainstream and alternative provision school settings.
It is shocking to know that this is the very first post-16 alternative provision in this country. That, in itself, is quite something but, get this,TBAP’s post-16 AP Academy is not teaching A-Levels, it’s exclusively teaching the IB Diploma Programme. The Academy is catering for children who, despite having been excluded, have shown that they possess the ability, desire and capability to progress to university if the right teaching, support and educational context is available. And it is the breadth of the IB’s programme that makes it so suitable for these learners.
So, these students could be classed as the lucky ones, but if they can prove the school to be a success, why couldn’t or wouldn’t it be replicated elsewhere? Consider for a minute, the story of one learner we heard about while we visited – she is just 16 years old, has no family home and no relatives to rely on. She lives in a room in a hostel and fends for herself with no one to help her with homework and few positive influences around her. For this young person, the school is literally a life-line but it will still take all of her internal strength, and the skill and support of the school’s staff, to achieve success at the end of the two years.
We met some of the school’s new students when we visited. They spoke animatedly about the journey ahead of them, describing with remarkable foresight how hard they will need to study and how difficult that will undoubtedly be. One of the young men we met wants to run his own business one day, another has ambitions of being a doctor.
Can you imagine what these young people have the potential to do? They have endured (and still endure) some of the worst of what life and society throw at them. They will now receive an education designed to equip them to be open-minded, principled, caring, inquirers, risk-takers, reflective, and able to engage with people in an increasingly globalised, rapidly changing world. Hopefully they will use their education to work their way into powerful and influential positions in the world and, armed with the knowledge of personal experience, be able to influence politics, economics, the arts, medicine, human rights, and much more, for the better.