From education to employment

Addressing the challenges of AP with AI By Fleur Sexton

Fleur Sexton

Exclusion from school has lifelong implications. Fifty percent of those excluded become NEET post-16, with just 4% achieving a pass in maths and English GCSEs. Widely recognised as ‘the pipeline to prison’, statistics from prison inmates are undeniably convincing: 42% of prisoners were expelled or permanently excluded from school, 59% truanted, and around 47% entering prison have no school qualifications.

With ever increasing numbers of pupils suspended, and temporarily or permanently excluded, the pressures on alternative provision (AP) are mounting. AI can help open up opportunities and provide positive pathways towards educational and social equity for these already disadvantaged young people. Spending money on education rather than incarceration, makes sound financial sense.

‘We enable children and learners to thrive, by protecting the vulnerable and ensuring the delivery of excellent standards of education, training and care. This helps realise everyone’s potential – and that powers our economy, strengthens society and increases fairness’  – DfE, Vision and Mission, Outcome Delivery Plan (2021/22)

In 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) outlined four core strategic outcomes including:

  • to drive economic growth through improving skills, productivity and supporting people to work;
  • levelling up education standards so young people are prepared with the knowledge, skills and qualifications they need;
  •  supporting the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, through high-quality local services, so that no one is left behind.

A growing number of pupils not being educated

However, the latest statistics show continually rising rates of exclusion from school, with an increase of over 1,000 pupils (from 2097 to 3104) permanently excluded from schools in the autumn term 2022/23, compared to the previous year.

AP is in crisis. Excluded pupils on waiting lists for a placement are simply not being educated, others have online lessons or tutors. Oversubscribed AP settings lead to increased class sizes so pupils are not receiving the levels of additional support they need, and many unregulated settings provide questionable educational advantage to attendees.

Pupils excluded from mainstream settings and attending AP, often have well ingrained negative associations with learning. Many have identified special educational needs (SEN), unmet in mainstream education that lead to challenging behaviour, the majority have SEN but received no support, others have gone undiagnosed. The continual sense of ‘failure’ and stress experienced in school, often impacts pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, or exacerbates existing social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Using AI to help educate these students

On entering AP, the first barrier is to find ways to re-engage them with learning. It must be meaningful to them, to connect and reflect their own experiences of the world.

By providing a bespoke curriculum tailored to individual needs, these pupils can begin to build skills, and increase their confidence and commitment by making learning successful for them. As well as providing individualised interactive content, AI can be a ‘third’ teacher in the room, alongside teachers and support staff.

AI-powered tutors can provide personalised instruction and feedback to learners, addressing individual needs by ‘scaffolding’ their learning. For example, if a learner is having difficulty grasping a concept – especially an abstract one, the AI tutor can produce several relevant analogies to help explain it. AI can also be used to develop interactive learning modules, so the learner has more control and a sense of ownership over their learning.


AI is by no means a replacement for teachers or support staff. It is purely additional support that, coupled with approaches that promote engagement with learning, can support these disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, enabling them to access an education previously denied them. If the DfE’s vision is to become a reality, we need to redress the balance, and AI can provide part of the solution.

By Fleur Sexton, CEO PET-Xi

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