Alternative Provision Innovation Fund: Transforming the Lives of Disadvantaged Children

Alternative Provision Digital Conference

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The organisers of the Alternative Provision Digital Conference spoke with PRUsAP President Sarah Dove who shared her key insights into a pioneering initiative funded by the Department for Education: Alternative Provision Innovation AV1 project.


The initiative aims to improve outcomes for children in alternative provision. In an exclusive interview with the Project Manager, Sarah Dove, they discussed the project’s achievements so far along with pioneering technological innovation to support those most vulnerable, their plans, and what is required to accomplish their major goals in transforming the lives of disadvantaged children.

Sarah Dove, President, PRUsAP & Project Manager, Alternative Provision Innovation AV1 Project

The Alternative Provision Innovation Fund Project was looking at whether telepresence solutions would support young people in returning to school. 90 AV robots were funded by the Department for Education.

We wanted to see whether this would assist in the reintegration of vulnerable children back into schools and if it would help them achieve their academic goals. An underpinning concern was around their emotional wellbeing and ensuring they were part of their school environment despite undergoing critical treatment as many children suffering from cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, as well as anxiety or depression, and patients within psychiatric in-patient hospitals.

One of the greatest challenges we faced was getting several academic organisations/schools to agree to take part in the initiative. This was a complex task as we had to on-board these schools all the way from Cornwall to Manchester, and beyond.

Sadly, during the project, several children passed away but even those that are no longer with us sought the benefits of the initiative as it enabled them to stay connected with their friends throughout all the turmoil they had to endure.

The biggest question we had to ask ourselves for these unfortunate children was not to do with their academic achievements but was simply ‘did they have fun?’ and the answer was ‘yes’. That was our greatest accomplishment, even though it is difficult to quantify.

Most children lived, attended school virtually, and did very well. At the start of the project, we assessed their personal wellbeing and that looked at their engagement with peers and staff and what we found was generally a substantial increase.

Overall, we saw children not only maintain their academic progress but also improve their emotional wellbeing. On top of this, we found that most pupils using these AV robots wanted to return to school full-time because they stayed connected to their friends.

The life of the project was 2 years, and we are currently waiting for governmental feedback from the Department for Education regarding information comparing this to other innovation-led projects to see how we fared.

In terms of next steps, we would love more funding, but it is also about making all solutions to absenteeism of vulnerable children within schools available and holding decision-makers accountable for implementing these.

COVID-19 has highlighted issues of isolation, but this is not a new story for these children. This has gone on for years and we can learn from these experiences and consider how we support children with medical needs in the future. We must use this information to drive forward change.

Join Sarah at this year’s Alternative Provision Digital Conference on Thursday 22nd April, broadcast live from Central London where she will be discussing Considerations Impacting Funding for AP.

Here is the full agenda:

We are pleased to be able to offer 20% off registration for the conference. Use Discount Code UKEBZO-AP when you register.

Source: Sam Cartwright for

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