12 May 2015
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
In Plenary tomorrow, Suzy Davies AM, has a short debate on Pupils Educated Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS). This term covers a range of circumstances in which pupils are educated outside a school setting, such as pupil referral units; individual pathways and 14-19 provision; independent and voluntary sector provision; and home tuition. EOTAS refers to education provided by the local authority and it is generally accepted that the term does not include elective home education provided by parents.
The Welsh Government’s policies in this regard came under scrutiny as part of the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s inquiry into Attendance and Behaviour and in its subsequent report, published in August 2013. Evidence received by the Committee suggested that there was an ‘acute shortage’ of EOTAS provision in Wales and that the provision which did exist needed ‘considerable improvement’. The then Children’s Commissioner referred to ‘a grim picture of the education offer provided to children and young people EOTAS’. One of the Committee’s recommendations was that the Welsh Government should work with regional consortia and other key stakeholders to explore the feasibility and benefits of developing and commissioning EOTAS provision on a regional basis and potentially on an all Wales basis.
The Welsh Government had already published an action plan in 2011 to improve EOTAS. It had also already commissioned research from the University of Edinburgh to examine the process of exclusion from school in Wales and the delivery, planning and commissioning of education provision for children and young people educated outside the school setting. The subsequent report: Evaluation of education provision for children and young people educated outside the school setting, was published in October 2013. It identified that:
- nearly 90 per cent of pupils in EOTAS provision had special educational needs;
- nearly 70 per cent were entitled to free school meals;
- 75 per cent were boys; and
- 40 per cent, the largest group, were educated in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).
Amongst the review’s findings was that ‘provision for education outside the school setting was highly variable between authorities’ and that ‘the number of available places varied between authorities, as did the nature and purpose of the provision’. For example education provision ranged across local authorities from 2 hours per day through to a full 25 hours per week, ‘although most authorities were moving to offering 25 hours per week for longer fixed term exclusions, permanent exclusion and in EOTAS generally.’
The Welsh Government responded to the review’s findings by saying that it had ‘identified where improvements could be made in the system’ and saying the report provided ‘an important benchmark for EOTAS provision’. Of the review’s 22 recommendations for the Welsh Government, the Minister accepted eighteen recommendations, either in whole, in part or in principle. In a further update in October 2014, the Minister announced that part of Estyn’s remit for 2015-16, would be to undertake a review to map EOTAS provision across Wales and review the effectiveness of Local Authorities’ management of provision.
The issue of EOTAS provision continues to attract interest and scrutiny and in May 2014, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales published a report about the support provided to children and young people in Pupil Referral Units.