Cllr James Hockney represents Bush Hill Park Ward on Enfield Council.
At last, a light has been shone on the injustice of some schools off-rolling students and misusing the practice of permanent and fixed period exclusions. As I wrote on ConservativeHome previously, increasing numbers of pupils are being excluded from schools – with students with special education needs (SEN) being over six times more likely to be excluded.
For over a decade, many have been calling for action, yet with little progress and scant media coverage. The Timpson Review has ensured that this is no longer the case. When the ‘Pledge’ on Sky News discussed this topic as a problem; you know that the mainstream media, at long last, has woken up to the situation.
The Timpson Review was requested by Damian Hinds at the behest of the Prime Minister to seek answers on why some groups of students are disproportionally excluded from schools.
A study of Primary Schools in 2016/17 found that 85 per cent of them did not exclude any pupils, but 0.2 per cent of schools excluded over ten children in just one year. Furthermore, the analysis shows that 78 per cent of permanent exclusions issued were to pupils who either had SEN, or were classified as in need or were eligible for free school meals.
The report interestingly upheld the contention of off-rolling. Many of us have campaigned on the issue and have seen first-hand unofficial exclusions leading to permanent off-rolling. Most often, these cases involved a ratchet approach by schools, making families feel that they were the problem, and their child was no longer welcome/suitable/educatable or just a failure.
The drivers for this approach fell into four themes: leadership; lack of resource; lack of safeguards and; no incentive(s) for the school.
The report also upheld the view that whilst there are good examples of Alternative Provision (AP), in the main provision, there is a geographic lottery with low attainment rates for children. For example, only 4.5 per cent of children in AP achieve good passes in English and Maths GCSEs compared with national statistics.
In the long term, excluded children who complete Stage 4 in AP had a 30 per cent chance of being NEET (neither in education, employment or training).
The Timpson report is substantial and runs to over 100 pages with 30 recommendations. The one that has drawn the most attention is that the school, from which the student is excluded, will be responsible for the on-going education and wellbeing of each excluded child. This recommendation alone is a real game-changer. Previously schools had the perverse incentive that to off-roll or exclude failing, poorly behaved or absent students enhanced their overall ranking. Now they have to find ways of either keeping these students in the building and finding appropriate education there or ensuring the AP provision they chose is up to standard and successful. This clearly changes the education landscape.
There are other accompanying recommendations in the Timpson Report. One is that the DFE seeks to keep track of children leaving mainstream education. This is a new initiative in itself. Another is that the DfE must review the reasons for the exclusion. Previously, schools had been able to state ‘other’ rather than define the issue for the exclusion (one in five cases fell into this category). Another recommendation is that Ofsted has been charged with inspecting the way in which schools manage the educational provision of students classified as ‘children in need’ and excluded.
One possible solution to these issues is to have a ‘Practice Improvement Fund’. This will be monies to help Local Authorities (LAs), mainstream schools, special schools, and APs work together in identifying and supporting children in need – with the recommendation stating required funding of ‘sufficient value, longevity and reach’.
The ‘Teacher Omnibus’ survey found that 18 per cent of teachers do not feel able to meet the needs of a child with SEN, with 30 per cent stating that there is insufficient training provided to support SEN students. To alleviate this problem, Timpson recommends that schools will receive £10m in funding to train and share best practice.
Local authorities will be expected to act as advocates for vulnerable children. This is significant, as often there is no neutral panel to whom parents can appeal, get help, advice, or support. Currently, parents have to navigate a warren of forms to fill in, bureaucracy, blind alleys, unhelpful staff, staff who want to help but don’t know how, and have the odds stacked against them in this complex and complicated system. To date, many parents have found fighting for an appropriate education for their excluded son or daughter to be an uphill battle. Having a person or an organisation set up who understands the system will be an enormous help.
For too long, Alternative Provision has been a one-way street – an education of sorts, with little oversight by the authorities with no intention on the part of the AP or the excluding school to return the student into the mainstream system. The recommendations provide the opportunity for AP to become part of the mainstream education system, rather than an adjunct.
One of the recommendations is to give Ofsted a role in examining how schools deal with children in need and score accordingly. However, there is still an accountability gap. According to the latest National Audit Office report, 1,620 ‘Outstanding’ schools have not been inspected for over six years, of which 296 have not be inspected for over 10 years. Whilst it is fair to say that the enhanced role that the report recommends for the DfE and LAs, it is still a potential gap in overview and governance.
It is also unclear how schools with high exclusion rates will be addressed. The report provides for across-the-board-support for schools; however, there should be an intervention process for Ofsted in schools that have an exceptionally high exclusion rate.
The Timpson Review is a substantive, evidence-based investigation with significant recommendations. It is notable that the review undertook speaking to over a 100 individuals and organisations, in addition to 1,000 responses in the call for evidence.
In response, the government has committed to accepting all 30 recommendations in ‘principle’. If this means the totality of the recommendations, this could lead to a substantive change that many of us have been campaigning for over a decade on.
The review was at the behest of the Prime Minister on this burning injustice. This could be a very real legacy for which many of us will be grateful.