What is Alternative Education?

A parent's guide to Alternative provision

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the mainstream school system doesn’t work for all children, around 135,000 pupils in England attend alternative provision settings at some point during each school year.

The Department for Education defines alternative provision as ‘education arranged by local authorities for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; education arranged by schools for pupils on a fixed period exclusion; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.’
The most common type of alternative provision is
pupil referral unit (PRU): a school that caters for children who aren’t able to attend a mainstream school. These are much smaller than mainstream schools, with very small class numbers and lots of pastoral support. Around a third of pupils in alternative provision attend PRUs.

Bridge and MK Primary PRU are alternative provision academies.

‘Alternative provision should focus on the child’s needs and interests in a nurturing way that can help them build up their trust and confidence again,’
Pupils may attend alternative provision full-time or part-time, with the rest of their education taking place at their usual school. They must receive an equivalent full-time education to their peers in mainstream schools, but this can be flexibly delivered and creative to meet the needs of the young person.

The most common reason for a child to attend alternative provision is school exclusion, usually because their behaviour has become unmanageable,’ These children may have been permanently excluded from their mainstream school, or be at risk of being permanently excluded.
There are many other reasons why a child might attend alternative provision, such as:

  • Mental health needs
  • School phobia/school refusal
  • Bullying
  • Medical needs
  • Persistent truancy
  • Being a young carer
  • Special educational needs


Around 40% of pupils in alternative provision are primary school age, and the majority are boys. There are three main ways in which a child might be transferred to alternative provision:

  • Permanent exclusion, where the pupil is removed from the school roll. The school no longer has any responsibility for the child.
  • A managed move, where the pupil transfers to alternative provision voluntarily. This is a more consensual approach that involves the full cooperation of parents, governors and the local authority or academy trust. It avoids the child having a permanent exclusion in their records.
  • A Emergency placement/ referral, where the pupil remains on the roll of their current school but receives some or all of their education off-site.

Making alternative provision work for your

It’s natural to be worried and upset if your child is transferred to alternative provision. It’s important to remember, though, that children in alternative provision are not ‘naughty children’ and are typically very vulnerable.
There are many positives to a child being in alternative provision rather than struggling in a school environment that isn’t working for them. ‘Some really good social work goes on in alternative provision, with a strong focus on pastoral support around behaviour, bullying and mental health.
Before your child starts at their alternative provision setting, or if that’s not possible, soon after they join, try to set up a meeting with the PRU and the staff who will work directly with your child so you can discuss their needs.
Throughout your child’s alternative provision journey, make sure you keep talking to the staff to ensure your child’s needs are being met and any problems are tackled promptly.
‘Communicate as much information as you can about what works for your child and what doesn’t. Keep those lines of communication open and work together to support your child,’ 

What if you disagree with your child attending alternative provision?

It’s completely understandable to have concerns about your child moving to alternative provision. By the time the wheels are in motion, it’s likely that you’ll have been in close communication with their school for some time and have discussed the possibility of the move.

 ‘It’s important that you feel you can question the school about why your child is being moved, and challenge the decision if you feel you need to, ‘Gain clarification about why it’s happening, and whether they’re actually being excluded.’
If your child is permanently excluded, you do have the right to appeal the decision. The first step is to take your case to the school governors, who may overturn the exclusion. If not, you can apply for an independent review by your local authority or, if the school is an academy, the academy trust. You must apply for a review within 15 school days of the exclusion, and it may be helpful to seek legal advice.

While some children benefit from staying in alternative provision until they finish compulsory education, many will return to mainstream school, be it after weeks, months or even years.
Whether or not your child does reintegrate into mainstream school, it’s important to see their time in alternative provision as an opportunity, not a failure.
‘Alternative provision can do amazing work to rebuild children’s trust in adults and the education system,’ ‘A positive experience can make children feel less anxious and more confident again. This means they can access other educational settings and, paired with a successful transition, allow them to reach their potential.’