Bridge Academy, an Alternative Provision Academy, came into being on 1 October 2013, having previously been four separate Pupil Referral Units, known locally as Personalised Educated Centres [PECs]. We now operate as one Academy across three geographically dispersed sites not as separate entities within one Academy. Strong links are maintained with referring mainstream schools. Data on attendance is fed back weekly to mainstream partners and any child protection/safeguarding concerns as they arise. Academic progress data is shared on a half termly basis, this latter sharing of information is important particularly as reintegration is a primary focus of the work undertaken, most notably at Key Stage 3. Support in Bridge Academy is provided for up to 195 young people of secondary school age. All students are dual rolled with their referring mainstream school unless they have been permanently excluded. Bridge Academy works closely with all mainstream schools in Milton Keynes to reduce to an absolute minimum the number of secondary permanent exclusions.
Bridge Academy is part of the Stephenson Trust, a Multi-Academy Trust, and has close working links with Stephenson Academy, a Social Emotional and Mental Health Special Academy. I am Executive Principal across both Academies and each Bridge Academy centre is led by a Deputy Principal who takes the day to day operational lead. In turn, each Bridge centre has one or more Assistant Principal and we meet as a senior team every Thursday.
Students are referred to Bridge Academy via a monthly Alternative Education Panel, or in some cases on an emergency placement between Panel meetings. The latter is a mechanism used to avoid permanent exclusion and is usually undertaken where a young person has done something that, of itself, would ordinarily warrant permanent exclusion. Each of the secondary schools in Milton Keynes, plus Milton Keynes Local Authority are represented, at a senior level, on the Alternative Education Panel which I chair. This facilitates better partnership working to the benefit of students. All schools have to complete a detailed Information Passport before a student comes into alternative education. We would expect to see parental agreement to a placement at Bridge Academy as evidence by a parent/carer signing the completed Information Passport though on rare occasions it may be that a parental signature is not forthcoming and where this is the case then Headteachers in mainstream schools can exercise their authority as outlined in exclusion guidance to place a young person in alternative provision.
The Information Passport highlights current educational attainment for students, attendance plus a range of other data. Improving school attendance is a key priority and it is a main aim of Bridge Academy to improve upon mainstream attendance at the point of referral. Parents and young people should be involved in the production of the Information Passport. Our aim is to improve on predicted mainstream outcomes notably at the end of Key Stage Four. This allows Bridge Academy to demonstrate both individual and whole school improvement.
All students are on the SEN Register at SEN K, a very small minority have Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) though Bridge Academy is not ‘Special’ School, provision and is an extension of mainstream provision so it is the case that a young person who has an EHCP and who has not prospered in mainstream education will not be considered for a placement at Bridge Academy. Most students have a significantly disrupted educational background.
Looking at the three individual sites, Bridge Academy South, based in the south of Bletchley, provides education and support for up to 60 students at Key Stage 3. These students are at high risk of permanent exclusion or may even have been permanently excluded from mainstream. The primary focus of Bridge Academy South is to reintegrate students back into mainstream within agreed timeframes. The curriculum is very much focused on a mainstream curriculum with additional time for working on social skills. Afternoon sessions are focussed around project based learning to enhance student engagement in learning beyond the core subjects of English, mathematics and science.
Bridge Academy Central is based in Coffee Hall and supports up to 105 students at Key Stage 4. Students at Key Stage Four are also at high risk of permanent exclusion or have been permanently excluded from mainstream schooling. The aim at Key Stage 4 is for students to exceed their mainstream predicted grades so as to ensure that few, if any, become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) . The curriculum at Key Stage 4 is broad and balanced. Core subjects, studied at Level 1 and 2 are English, Mathematics, Science, ICT, and Catering. We have adopted a pathways approach so there are multiple choices around the level of qualification that can be studied and also the way in which the course is delivered. For example, in mathematics and English there are both GCSE and Functional Skills pathways that can be studied at Level 1 or 2. Optional subjects, studied at both Level 1 and 2, include motor vehicle, construction, hair and beauty, art, history health and social care, sport, music and animal care, public services, child development and philosophy and ethics. All have accredited outcomes at either Level 1 or Level 2, be that GCSE, BTEC or a specialist vocational qualification as in the case of motor vehicle and hair and beauty.Teaching is in small groups, never more than 10 students with two adults and more usually a ratio of six students with two adults.
A range of interventions, notably literacy, are offered where necessary and all Bridge Academy students have access to a therapeutic team which includes two psychological therapists, an Educational Psychologist, School Counsellor, two Assistant Psychologists and a Family Support Worker.
Bridge Academy West is based in West Bletchley and caters for up to 30 students at Key Stages 3 and 4. It provides education for students with emotional and medical needs. Given the nature of the needs of the students at Bridge West, there has to be specialist or consultant level medical advice that needs will be better met at Bridge West rather than mainstream and the minimum offer is five hours per week in line with government guidance. Bridge West will look to increase the academic offer as soon as it is clear that an individual student is able to manage the increase. The core and optional sub at Key Stage 4 are as at Bridge Central and where a student has a particular desire to continue with a subject they have studied in mainstream, partner mainstream schools will offer the option of study in school. Strong links are maintained with referring mainstream schools and at Key Stage 3 reintegration is again an important focus.
Dr Neil Barrett
Stephenson and Bridge Academies