What is it, and how do you measure its effectiveness?

New literature review provides (some) answers


CfBT  Education Trust  has published a literature review ‘ Achieving successful outcomes through  Alternative Education Provision: an  international literature review’ to help improve understanding of how to measure the effectiveness of Alternative Education Provision (AEP), bring together evidence of effective approaches to AEP and to  identify promising practice and lessons that might be transferable from AEP to mainstream provision.

The  Coalition Governments education White Paper  said that  it will address the lack of a ‘common or transparent measure’ of the quality of alternative provision, where it is not inspected by Ofsted, by introducing a quality mark for alternative provision or through tighter regulation of  that provision. This report provides useful  evidence to help inform  that policy.

The report acknowledges that defining AEP is problematic, as not only can it take numerous forms (private and third sector  provision, FE provision, LA provision, online provision, work-based learning and vocational education,  full time and part time) but it can also have different objectives (educational or social, prevention  or intervention), be aimed at different beneficiaries (individual, family, community) and finally have  different meanings in different countries.

However, it found that  one  of the most  useful ways of conceptualising AEP comes from the US Department of Education which defines  alternative education as a school that ‘addresses needs of students that typically can’t be met in  a regular school, provides non-traditional education, serves as an adjunct to a regular school, or  falls outside the categories of regular, special education or vocational education.’ However, thinking  of AEP solely as ‘schools’ excludes some types of alternative provision. (The range of types of  programme that may be referred to as AEP are illustrated in Appendix 6.1. of the report ) For this review  the authors have  therefore adapted an American definition  so as to retain a focus on education programmes. For the purposes of this review alternative education provision is defined as: schools or programmes  that are set up by local authorities, schools, community and voluntary organisations, or other entities,  to serve young people whose needs are not being met and who, for a variety of reasons, are not succeeding in a traditional learning environment. The authors of a 2009 paper published by the think-tank Demos  suggest that in relation to AEP there is a need for:

•  ‘an accountability system that captures a richer idea of success in education – that allows  schools, and children and young people’s services to flourish’


•  ‘an Ofsted-style function of inspecting and monitoring voluntary and community and private  sector organisations and awarding them a single quality kitemark; this kitemark scheme could  build on the experiences of the new Learning Outside the Classroom ‘Quality Badge’ scheme.’

The research into AEP reviewed in this document supports this view and aims to build a clearer  picture of what any such accountability system or kitemark scheme could capture in order to  evidence the effectiveness of AEP appropriately. The main body of this report explores further the evidence of what contributes to effective AEP and the achievement of successful outcomes for  young people through AEP; and concludes with a proposed framework that could be used both in  planning or assessing AEP.

The evidence reviewed suggests some essential characteristics of effective AEP. Effective AEP is:

• Based on trusting, caring relationships

• Based on effective assessment of need

• Person-centred

• Purposeful (outcomes focused)

• Personalised and appropriate (curriculum/addressing needs)

• Flexible and accessible

• Delivered by highly skilled and trained staff

• Monitored and assessed (to ensure needs are met and to inform delivery)

• Supported by the wider family and community.

The review found some evidence to suggest what outcomes can reasonably be expected from  effective AEP. Outcomes that the literature suggests are typically measured, but may not be solely  attributable to the provision, are:

• Academic attainment and increase in numbers of learners receiving awards for their performance

• School attendance

•  Reductions in disruptive and/or violent behaviours and exclusions, suspensions, or referrals

• Reduction in offending behaviours

• Improved sense of direction and self, including changes in self-esteem, confidence, motivation,  and health awareness

• Improvement in developing and sustaining relationships (with family, project staff, peers) including  changes in the ability to communicate, cope with authority, and work with others

• Positive progression routes.

However,  this review  did  not successfully identify evidence of the processes or mechanisms by which  those characteristics suggested to be integral to effective AEP actually impact on outcomes, nor  did  it find  evidence of causality. In short, it did  not uncover how or why these characteristics  make AEP successful.

But,  by  combining the list of effective characteristics, or ‘inputs’, with a list of outcomes drawn from the  literature, an outline framework that could be useful in designing new AEP and also in monitoring  the effectiveness of AEP has been produced. More work is needed on this outline framework to  identify what tools and evidence could be used to measure or assess the effectiveness of both the  inputs and the outcomes and to test its appropriateness for all types of AEP.

In general, the findings of the literature review reflect the sentiments of Brown Ruzzi:

‘The creative and individualized environments of these educational programs serve to  reconnect and re-engage out-of-school youth providing them with an opportunity to achieve in a different setting using different and innovative learning methods. While there are many Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education  Provision: an international literature review different kinds of alternative schools and programs, they are often characterized by their flexible schedules, smaller student-teacher ratios, relevant and career oriented themes, and  modified curricula.’

.Achieving successful outcomes through  Alternative Education Provision: an international literature review ;Paul Gutherson, Helen Davies, Ted DaszkiewiczCfBT Education Trust (2011)


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