Press Story

As mental ill health in young people rises, and more children are subject to interaction with social care services each year, more children are being educated in the alternative provision sector for excluded pupils. On mental health awareness day, a new IPPR report outlines a solution to reduce exclusions in England and to improve teachers’ specialism in working with the most vulnerable.

The bold new programme proposed by IPPR would deliver the best education to these most vulnerable pupils, and to feed this expertise back into the system to create transformative education for those that need it most. The programme, The Difference, is being founded to develop new expertise in the teaching profession in supporting success for the most vulnerable learners.

IPPR’s new analysis comes as the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, pledges to focus on improving standards in Alternative Provision for excluded pupils. Today Edward Timpson, former Children’s Minister 2012-2017, announces his support of the new workforce development programme proposed in IPPR’s report: The Difference. The new report finds:

  • Each day 35 children are told to leave their school permanently.
  • Each of these children goes on to cost around £370,000 over their life time, due to poorer outcomes.
  • The excluded children in any cohort therefore cost around £2.1billion.

The scale of the problem:

  • It is the most vulnerable children who are likely to be excluded. 1 in 2 has a recognised mental health need. They are four times more likely to be from the poorest families, three times more likely to be interacting with social services and ten times more likely to have a mental health problem.
  • Only 1% of excluded children get the five good GCSEs needed to access post-16 training and apprenticeships.
  • Failing these children has a profound personal and social cost. The majority of the prison population is made up of children excluded when at school.

Is the problem worsening?

  • Permanent exclusions have increased by 40% in the last 3 years. The majority of these students are close to sitting their GCSE exams.
  • Children are increasingly pushed out of schools in more informal ways not captured in official statistics.
  • The total number of pupils taught in schools for excluded children is five times higher than the number of reported exclusions. 1 in every 200 children is taught each year in alternative provision for excluded pupils.
  • Pupils in alternative provision are twice as likely to be taught by supply teachers.
  • The demand for leaders in the sector has doubled as the population in the sector expands.

Can the situation be improved?

  • 1 in 3 teachers have said they would consider joining a new programme committed to working with the most vulnerable and reducing exclusion in England.
  • The Difference is a new charity aiming to help them – by recruiting talented teachers to work in alternative provision for two years, giving them master’s level specialist training, and finding them leadership positions back in the mainstream afterwards to stem the flow of exclusion.

The Difference will provide a new career pathway that will connect exceptional teachers to schools for excluded children, provide training in supporting pupils with complex needs, and create a generation of leaders equipped to drive change throughout England’s education system. By combining teaching skills with expertise in working with other agencies including social care and mental health services, Difference Leaders will be better able to innovate in supporting pupils with complex needs, and to break the link between school exclusion and social exclusion.

Kiran Gill, IPPR Associate Fellow and Founder of The Difference said:

“Too often the country’s most vulnerable and troubled children become invisible as they are pushed out of the mainstream school system. But by not addressing their challenges when they first appear, we are brewing trouble for later. The majority of today’s prison population were excluded when at school. The Difference exists to change this story.

We want to raise the status of working with the most vulnerable children. The Difference will connect exceptional teachers to the most challenging and rewarding jobs. By drawing together best practice from education, psychology, social work, and criminal justice, we will start to develop an evidence-based approach to breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion.”

Edward Timpson, Former Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, 2012-17 said:

“The educational underperformance of children who are multiply vulnerable is a complex challenge. Yet this is also where stakes are highest, and where successful innovations can truly change lives.

“That is why I am pleased to support The Difference, which seeks to raise the status of and evidence-base for teaching the most vulnerable learners, and to improve capacity for collaboration between schools and other agencies so troubled young people get the right support at the right time.”

Pupil referral units and other alternative provision schools have welcomed plans for The Difference. Dave Whitaker, Executive Headteachers at Springwell Academy Trust (a multi-academy trust running pupil referral and special schools) said:

“Finding the right school leaders has been key for Wellspring Trust in taking pupil referral units out of Special Measures and making them happy, safe places to learn.

“But recruitment is always a challenge. Too few teachers know about the alternative provision sector and how incredible it is to work there. Our leaders change lives: their work makes the difference between success and failure, hope and hopelessness, in some instances even life and death. Every day is a privilege; The Difference seeks to inspire more colleagues to join us in this vital work.”

Mainstream schools have recognised the demand for such an initiative. John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Learning Community, a multi-academy trust, said:

“This is a great initiative. Schools need to ensure they have teachers who really care about the character and competence of every student regardless of their starting point. This programme is vital because it provides teachers with the expertise and evidence base of education interventions to support the most vulnerable learners. These teachers will develop a crucial understanding of how to work closely with social care and mental health services. Oasis is keen to hire this new generation of specialist school leaders, with expertise developed through The Difference programme.”


Kiran Gill, 07525 622651,
Katy Rae, 07411 975764,
Danny Swift, 07804022101,

Maeve Cohen, 0161 694 9683,
Sofie Jenkinson, 07981023031,


The report is available in advance, under strict embargo.Contact

People available for comment:

  1. Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference charity and report author (associate fellow at IPPR) 07525 622 651
  2. Edward Timpson, Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families 2012-17 (via
  3. Dave Whitaker, Executive Head at Wellspring Academy Trust (overseeing Springwell Alternative Academy in Barnsley and Springwell Lincolnshire) 07789 631 403

Toarrange a pre-record or live interview, contact Kiran Gill, 07525 622651,

Case studies: A limited number of case studies are available for features, including visits to pupil referral units.