SOL Review 2017

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07 Dec 2017

 Review of Salford Open Learning Centre (SOL): 9 March 2017

Lead: Jane Austin


Findings are based on evidence gathered through:

-       discussions held with the executive headteacher of the Secondary PRUs (by phone); the headteacher of the Clifton PRU; the youth work manager; two teachers; the pastoral manager; and two teaching assistants

-       informal conversations with youth workers

-       visits to parts of 5 lessons taught by teachers and 2 sessions led by youth workers

-       informal discussions with pupils, including at lunchtime

-       a review of some documents.

Arrangements for safeguarding pupils were not checked.


SOL makes alternative provision of up to 23 hours per week for a maximum of 30 KS4 pupils who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to sustain their education in mainstream schools. Re-integration to mainstream is not a prime aim given the amount of learning time these pupils have often already lost and the challenges of recovering this at KS4. Preparation for post-16 life and the development of employability skills are central aims.
The current number on roll is 18.

Pupils’ placements at SOL are full time even though their timetables may not be. Pupils continue to be registered with their sending school which retains responsibility for their performance, attendance and welfare. Pupils do not have statements of special educational needs or Education, Health and Care plans. Pupils return to their schools if the placement at SOL proves unsuitable.
SOL is part of the support for young people provided by the Integrated and Targeted Youth Support Services (IYSS). The academic elements of the curriculum are delivered by trained teachers.

SOL’s registration as an alternative provision is anomalous. It is attached through its URN to the Clifton PRU (KS4) although the PRU has no line management or financial responsibilities or accountabilities for SOL. However, this year the headteacher of the Clifton PRU has provided regular support for the education provision and teaching staff at SOL. This does not appear to be a viable arrangement in the longer term unless there is more clarity about roles and responsibilities and dedicated time is allocated for support of the education provision.

Until December 2016 SOL operated in 3 centres in different areas of the city. This meant that staff spent a great deal of time travelling. In January 2017 staff and pupils came together in the current accommodation which has enough space indoors and plenty of outdoor space that has the potential to extend recreation opportunities in the summer. The current location has the advantage of being close to the IYSS base at The Beacon Centre where pupils can access additional facilities such as ICT and a recording studio.

The alternative provision made by SOL has a positive impact on pupils’ personal development and their engagement with learning. It has a number of good features and the capacity to develop the quality and quantity of its provision further.

Leadership and management

  • SOL’s strength lies in its alternative offer of both academic subjects and a broad range of experiences that foster pupils’ personal development and prepare them for post-16 education, training and employment.
  • The day-to-day management and running of SOL are effective. Staff are passionate about the value of this specialised provision and keep the best interests of pupils at the heart of its operation. They work well as a team to care for pupils and provide a curriculum that meets individual needs. Morale is buoyant.
  • The strategic structure for decision making is, at best, opaque. Although a situation has not arisen where this has been critical, it is not clear where final responsibility for SOL lies day-to-day. For example, at an essential but mundane level, it is unclear who is responsible for decisions about the maintenance of the premises. More concerning is lack of clarity about where decisions sit in an emergency.
  • Some mechanisms are in place for holding staff to account for the quality of their work. An arrangement has been made for the headteacher of the Clifton PRU to take responsibility for the performance management of the lead teacher. The intention is that the lead teacher will manage the performance of the teachers, although ill-health absence has delayed the introduction of this system.
  • The lead teacher has introduced some processes for monitoring and evaluating the quality of provision. Observations of lessons focus well on the impact of teaching on pupils’ learning. The scrutiny of pupils’ work also checks on the delivery of programmes of study.
  • The lead teacher and youth work manager have jointly observed a number of sessions delivered by youth workers and provided helpful feedback on strengths and areas for development.
  • There is a system in place to ensure some consistency and continuity in the staffing of the youth work elements of the provision. However, the consistent term-time allocation of youth workers to SOL would be beneficial.


  • The curriculum is a strength. It is designed well to meet SOL’s aim of developing pupils’ readiness for post-16 life and employment. It draws well on the skills and expertise of youth workers and teachers. There is a good balance of academic subjects as well as activities that promote pupils’ personal and social development.
  • All pupils study English and mathematics and are aiming either to gain a GCSE or functional skills qualification. They then have choices that include art, history, citizenship and PE that can lead to recognised unit awards.
  • A key feature of the offer is outward bound activities linked to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme at bronze or silver levels.
  • In addition, pupils can learn to cook on a budget and work with a local theatre company on the Arts Make Award. This aims to increase self-confidence and employability skills. They can also follow the SEPE – Supporting Employability and Personal Effectiveness – course.
  • Pupils have the opportunity to take part in work experience.
  • An outline of work planned for each half term is forwarded to sending schools who also receive half-termly reports on pupils’ progress. 
  • Information, advice and guidance about next steps are provided by Connexions. An adviser visits weekly to work with individual pupils and help them to make well-founded choices for the next stage of their lives.
  • The move to a single site has prompted a new approach to curriculum delivery. Individual timetables have been drawn up in discussion with each pupil. While core subjects are non-negotiable, pupils chose other activities that match their interests. The rationale is that choice increases engagement and the likelihood of attendance. The amount of taught time reflects pupils’ social and emotional capacity to attend. This varies from a day each week for some to several pupils who are expected to attend for the full 23 hours offered. The expectations built into timetables are designed to be realistic and set pupils up to succeed rather than fail.
  • However, the intention must be to provide a full 25 hours per week and to support pupils to full attendance.

Teaching, learning and assessment

  • When pupils join SOL, baseline tests linked to GCSE and functional skills requirements are conducted using a national online provider. The results of these are used to set challenging targets in English and mathematics. Pupils’ progress towards these is tracked and reviewed half-termly.
  • In other subjects, the requirements of unit awards are broken down and pupils can see what they have completed and what more they need to do to achieve these.  
  • Little information is received from sending schools. If KS2 outcomes are known, teachers take these into account in evaluating pupils’ capabilities while recognising the negative impact of time lost from schooling. SOL commonly has difficulty obtaining work pupils have already completed e.g. art portfolios that could contribute to their achievements at the end of KS4.
  • Pupils made good progress in the lessons observed because:

-       relationships between adults and pupils are positive and strong

-       teachers’ expectations are high regarding engagement in tasks

-       a calm working atmosphere prevails

-       the tasks set are at the right level because teachers’ assessment of pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding is accurate

-       one-to-one sessions focus effectively on filling gaps in learning

-       learning is developed in small, manageable steps and scaffolded well

-       pupils are encouraged to persist when they find something challenging

-       teachers’ explanations are clear and their enthusiasm for their subjects is evident

-       teachers share assessment objectives with pupils and help them understand the progress they are making

-       teaching assistants are well briefed and know pupils very well

-       support from teaching assistants carefully prompts pupils’ thinking

-       there is a suitable emphasis on developing pupils’ independence

-       adults make it clear that they value pupils’ work.

The sessions led by youth workers contributed to pupils’ learning and fostered their personal development well because:

-       pupils’ relationships with youth workers are positive, respectful and relaxed

-       youth workers are skilled at encouraging pupils’ participation eg in exercise

-       youth workers respond to pupils’ interests and concerns well. For example, in a broader topic on crime, pupils showed a concern about issues of consent. Youth workers selected a good quality film that highlighted these issues and this prompted a helpful discussion.

-       pupils recognise the skills youth workers have, particularly in outdoor education activities.

Personal development, behaviour and welfare

  • Placement at SOL comes through the In-year Fair Access Panel. It is unusual for pupils or their parents to visit SOL prior to a placement. Most sending schools do not visit the provision to see whether it is suitable or to check on their pupils. 
  • Schools retain responsibility for pupils’ attendance: this is reported to them daily. Teaching assistants check with parents if a pupil does not arrive and then report appropriately to schools. The system is well established and works efficiently. Logs of these calls are kept.
  • The education welfare officers for individual schools follow up absences, although on occasion SOL draws on the support of the education welfare officer for the Clifton PRU.  
  • Staff say they are confident of a prompt response should they need to contact sending schools.
  • For pupils’ safety, schools and parents know their personalised timetables.
  • Although pupils’ personal development and employability skills are central to the work of SOL, there is no system in place for measuring pupils’ progress in this area or the impact of provision. Opportunities are missed to track pupils’ attendance in detail. The new personalised timetables provide a good opportunity to track pupils’ engagement in learning.  
  • Some pupils receive one-to-one support from the IYSS but there is little synergy between this and the work of SOL.  
  • Staff know pupils very well and manage their needs sensitively and calmly. They encourage and cajole as much participation in learning activities as pupils can manage. They include pupils in decision-making wherever possible.
  • Staff adopt a restorative approach to behaviour management. They are suitably trained to deal with behaviour incidents including where pupils need to be restrained. De-escalation is proving more manageable on the current site where there are both more space and more staff.
  • The pastoral manager maintains very frequent contact with parents including through the holidays. She arranges some provision in holidays, for instance drugs counselling.
  • Although staff say pupils are prone to destroying work they are dissatisfied with, pupils were observed making a successful effort in mathematics to plot graphs neatly and accurately; in art working with concentration and effort to produce drawings of a good quality; and in history producing a thoughtful poster about the holocaust.
  • Pupils show respect for their working environment: art work and displays are in good condition.
  • Displays support pupils’ personal development by providing information on drug use, sexual health and anti-bullying.
  • Pupils know the policy regarding use of mobile phones and were observed complying readily with this.


  • Clarify the strategic and line management arrangements for SOL.
  • Ensure that arrangements for the performance management of the lead teacher and the professional development of education staff are clear and that the provider, currently Clifton PRU, has the additional capacity required to take on these responsibilities effectively. 
  • If SOL continues to operate on a single site, review the requirements for teaching staff and ensure that best use is made of the time previously required for travel.
  • Increase provision to 25 hours as soon as possible.
  • Work with the In-year Fair Access Panel and schools to:

-       ensure that SOL receives relevant information about pupils’ attainment, progress, behaviour, attendance and punctuality so that realistic baselines can be established and progress measured accurately

-       enable pupils and their parents to visit SOL prior to placement

-       ensure schools sustain links with their pupils.

  • Introduce systems to track pupils’ personal development and their engagement with learning alongside their academic progress.
  • Develop stronger links between SOL and the one-to-one support provided to pupils by IYSS.

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