Written evidence submitted by Outcomes First Group


About Outcomes First Group


As the UK’s largest high-quality independent provider of special schools, please find below our submission in relation to the factors causing persistent and severe absence among pupils with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and examples of how independent special schools contribute to improved attendance and outcomes.


Outcomes First Group operates independent special schools across the UK with the vast majority of these schools in England. 91% (n=43 inspected) of the Group’s schools are judged to be good or outstanding by Ofsted, 10% above national levels. This consistently high level of regulatory performance demonstrates the impact of high-quality adaptive curricula, teaching, and learning for children with SEND.  


Within the Outcomes First Group, WPA Education Welfare Service, enhances the outcomes for children and young people by improving and sustaining regular school attendance, caring for mental health and wellbeing, and supporting safeguarding. The provision is tailor made to the schools’ individual needs and experienced staff work in partnership with the schools to improve and sustain good levels of attendance at least in line with the national average.


Outcomes First Group firmly welcome this important inquiry and efforts to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and would be delighted to meet with the Committee to discuss its submission.


Perspectives on the Inquiry’s Remit


  1. Causes of Persistent and Severe Absence


1.1.   From our experience at Outcomes First Group, there are some key demographics, dynamics and drivers that increase the risk of persistent and severe absence, in particular:  


  1. Pupils with SEND often have low attendance compared to their peers.


2.1.   This is due to a combination of factors, which exacerbate with the level of SEND and the degree of understanding and adaptations available to the child at school. Children in independent special schools have often missed large parts of their education because their needs have not been well met previously. A timely Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) assessment and then appropriate education provision can contribute significantly to improving attendance.

2.2.   Children who have medical conditions and those with regular appointments with therapists (e.g., Speech and Language or Occupational Therapists) that must be attended during the school day may also miss education. Furthermore, those pupils for whom the school environment or schedule is not easily adapted, such as those with sleep or eating issues may also have poor attendance. Again, the right education provision can help to alleviate the impact of their needs on school attendance. Ensuring that a school setting truly meets a child’s wider needs is most critical.


  1. Significant adaptations, made by independent special schools, offer strong resolutions to improve attendance.  


3.1.   Independent special schools can be flexible with the start and end times of learning days, provide virtual learning packages with live tutors at short notice, arrange lower stress environments or provide different types of learning opportunities.

3.2.   Adaptations may include learning in vocational spaces, such as farms or workshops, which not only create different expectations on learning times and structures but can reduce any anxiety or trauma response that may be associated with a traditional school setting. 

3.3.   Outcomes First Group Schools take a trauma-informed approach to learning with all staff trained to understand the impact of trauma on the brain and therefore their ability to learn. These learning programmes for staff are developed by a dedicated clinical team supported by three specialist clinical advisors that make up the Group’s advisory board (Professor Francesca Happe, Professor Barry Carpenter, and Professor Robina Shah). All training is accredited by the British Psychological Society. This approach helps staff to improve pupil attendance as they better understand why pupils may have previously disengaged.

3.4.   Learning in Outcomes First Group schools can look very different to a traditional pen and paper style of learning, but it can have an equal value to life and work and can re-engage even the most reluctant pupils. 

3.5.   For those pupils who have experienced bullying or have anxiety around other pupils, smaller class sizes and adaptations for group activities can minimise and remove barriers to engagement. 

3.6.   Independent Special Schools, such as those operated by Outcomes First Group, can do this more efficiently, more consistently well, and sustain quality over time. Done well, and in partnership with a team of professionals around the child, schools can be repeatedly successful at re-engaging the most reluctant learners. 

3.7.   Whilst some schools have this partnership approach some of the time – it is their consistency, availability and adaptability for the entire school calendar, (when staff are absent, when it is snowing, when there is a trip and so on), that make the difference between consistent attendance and periodic persistent absence, as it is easy for historical non-attendance patterns to re-establish.  


  1. Independent special school provision can accommodate clinical support to provide a holistic package of support to staff, children, and families.


4.1.   Ensuring access and prioritisation of clinical support to those young people who are consistently absent is critically important. When placing students, ensuring good clinical provision is in place should be a key consideration for commissioners.

4.2.   Independent Special Schools within the Outcomes First Group offer assessments on-site, reducing the need for travel and waiting times in medical settings, and may offer in-house therapy or assessments by non-NHS staff, reducing the impact on already stretched services. 

4.3.   For these pupils, this ease of access, speed of resolution of assessment and immediacy of treatment can support re-integration into learning swiftly so that momentum is not lost through further extended periods of absence.

4.4.   Supporting pupils to communicate, through effective Speech and Language Therapy, can also significantly improve attendance.


  1. Absence from a school building became an accepted norm for some pupils during the Covid pandemic.


5.1.   At Outcomes First Group, we believe that every child should have access to education and have the right to a meaningful life. Whilst COVID has created some additional complexity, it is of critical importance that providing a school setting which re-engages young people who have been impacted by COVID back into education should be a matter of national priority. 

5.2.   Historically, not wanting to return to school was often when a pupil was excluded from school and there was a long time before a replacement setting had been secured, or for long wait times for assessments for SEND. 

5.3.   For these pupils, the need for a different approach is critical to re-engaging them with learning, as the basic expectation to return is insufficient to set them back onto automatic full-time attendance. 

5.4.   Ensuring that children have timely SEND assessments and access to education is critical and more could be done to set benchmarks for this.


  1. For all the above groups of students it is critical that the joy of learning, and the enthusiasm for what is in store that day and the next needs to be of a higher value than being at home. 


6.1.   All learning institutions need to be meeting not only the pupils’ SEND needs but also offer an exciting and engaging curriculum. At Outcomes First Group, our curriculum is diverse, interactive and reflects the needs of the individual. Ensuring that a wide and engaging curriculum is in place for those disengaged students is critical and should be a focus for commissioners when considering local provision.


  1. Recommendations to support reengagement with education 


7.1.   At Outcomes First Group, we seek to tackle attendance issues through the Listen, Understand, Empathise and Support – but do not tolerate’ approach. Some key recommendations to improve national attendance are as follows:


February 2023