Fleur Sexton (pictured, right), Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and CEO of dynamic training provider, PET-Xi, with a reputation for success with the hardest to reach, discusses how the power of AI can be used to address the current challenges faced by alternative provision…
According to the Department for Education (DfE) ‘All children are entitled to receive a world-class education that allows them to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life, regardless of their background,’ but with ever increasing numbers of pupils suspended, and temporarily or permanently excluded, the onus is on alternative provision (AP) to try and make it happen. Can AI open up opportunities and provide a pathway towards educational and social equity for these disadvantaged young people?
Councils across the country recorded a 61% rise in exclusions between 2021-22 and 2022-23, with overall exclusion figures rising by 50% compared with 2018-19. Without proper support in place in alternative provision, exclusion is often life-changing.
Children excluded from school face a bleak future, with just 4% achieving a pass in English and maths GCSEs, and 50% becoming NEET post-16. Exclusion is often referred to as ‘the pipeline to prison’, and the statistics support that: 42% of prisoners were expelled or permanently excluded from school, 59% truanted, and around 47% of those entering prison had no school qualifications.
With prisons full to bursting, addressing the situation at its source by providing our children and young people with the ‘right support at the right time’, is not only the ethical response, but also makes sound financial sense. Isn’t it more viable to spend money on education rather than incarceration?
Currently AP is in crisis. Excluded pupils on waiting lists for a placement are simply not being educated, others have online lessons or tutors. Oversubscribed AP settings lead to increased class sizes so pupils are not receiving the levels of additional support they need, and many unregulated settings provide questionable educational advantage to attending children. It’s time to redress the balance, and AI can provide part of the solution.
Pupils excluded from mainstream settings and attending AP, often have well ingrained negative associations with learning. Some have identified special needs, unmet in mainstream education that lead to challenging behaviour, others have gone undiagnosed. The first barrier is to find ways to re-engage them with learning. It must be meaningful to them, to connect and reflect their own experiences of the world.
By providing a bespoke curriculum tailored to individual needs, these pupils can begin to build skills, and increase their confidence and commitment by making learning successful for them. As well as providing individualised interactive content, AI can be a ‘third’ teacher in the room, alongside the class teacher and assistant.
AI-powered tutors can provide personalised instruction and feedback to learners, addressing individual needs by ‘scaffolding’ their learning. For example, if a learner is having difficulty grasping a concept – especially an abstract one, the AI tutor can produce several relevant analogies to help explain it. AI can also be used to develop interactive learning modules, so the learner has more control and more of a sense of ownership over their learning.
This is by no means a replacement for teachers or teaching assistants. AI is purely an additional support, that,coupled with approaches that promote engagement with learning, can support these disadvantaged and often vulnerable children and young people, enabling them to access an education previously denied them.
One of the targets of the SEND Review is to: ‘…create a three-tier alternative provision system, focusing on targeted early support within mainstream school, time-limited intensive placements in an alternative provision setting, and longer-term placements to support return to mainstream or a sustainable post-16 destination.’1 AI can help make this a reality.
Fleur Sexton, CEO PET-Xi www.pet-xi.co.uk.