Timpson Review on Pupil Exclusions: Government determined to curb off-rolling

12 Aug

I           Exclusion Vignette

A few years ago, a group of inspectors on their way to a school which was to be brought under the watchdog’s microscope were grounded a few hundred yards from their destination because their car had broken down.   Three young lads who saw them offered to help.  They fished out the jack, raised the car on it, opened the bonnet, fiddled with the engine and in little time resolved the problem and set the engine running.

The inspectors were grateful, overjoyed and effusive in their thanks.   They asked these young men who they were and what they had been planning to do.

“We are pupils at ……. School. We were heading back to our homes.”

“Why?” asked the inspectors, “especially as it is a working day.”

“Oh,” said the second boy, “we were told to go home by the headteacher because we have been described as disruptive and informed that inspectors would be visiting the school.”

I am not sure what the outcome of that inspection was as it happened some time ago.  However, it is not unknown for schools and academies to engage in such dubious practices today, even though a school/academy will be given under 24 hours’ notice of an inspection.    What is sad is not only that in some cases excluded pupils miss out on learning, but also that they have considerable potential to learn based on the talents they have (as seen from this incident), if only  schools and academies press the right buttons.

II          The Timpson Review

On 7 May 2019, Edward Timpson, former children’s minister, published his review on the exclusions of pupils.  It made 30 recommendations all of which were accepted by the Government.

Timpson’s review included good and bad news. The good news was that 85% of mainstream schools/academies had not expelled any pupils in the academic year 2016/17. The bad news was that in each of 0.2% institutions that had expelled pupils more than 10 pupils had been excluded in that academic year.  Vulnerable pupils were more likely to be excluded. Altogether, 78% of permanent exclusions were of children who had special needs or classified as being eligible for free school meals.

Fewer Bangladeshi and Indian pupils were excluded than White British, Black Caribbean and mixed White and Caribbean ones.

In October 2017, former Prime Minister, Theresa May appointed Edward Timpson to carry out a review on the exclusions of pupils in schools and academies in response to the Race Disparity Audit. Edward Timpson was asked  to lead the review in March 2018.  He set out to explore how schools use exclusion.

New analysis conducted for the Review showed that some pupil and school characteristics were associated with greater risk of exclusion, even after controlling for other factors which could influence exclusions.

  • Altogether, 78% of pupils who were permanently excluded either had special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), classified as in need or were eligible for free school meals. In toto, 11% of permanently excluded children had all three characteristics.
  • Boys with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) but no statement were around 3.8 times more likely to be permanently excluded than a non-SEND child while girls were around 3.0 times more likely after controlling for other factors.
  • Disadvantage was strongly associated with exclusion, after controlling for other pupil characteristics. Children in receipt of free school meals (FSM) were around 45% more likely to be excluded than other pupils.
  • After accounting for other factors, children of Black Caribbean heritage were around 1.7 times more likely, and Mixed White and Black Caribbean children were around 1.6 times more likely to be permanently excluded compared to White British children. Indian and Bangladeshi pupils were around half as likely to be permanently excluded.
  • Controlling for other factors, children with a Children in Need Plan were around four times more likely to be permanently excluded compared to those with no social care classification.
  • Children who had Child Protection Plans were around 3.5 times more likely to be permanently excluded, and children who were looked after around 2.3 times as likely to be permanently excluded than children who had never been supported by social care.

Timpson made 30 recommendations.    An important one was that off-rolling difficult pupils should cease.  There were six other key ones.

(i)         Make early intervention the norm

Bring together education providers and councils so that schools and academies are better equipped to act early and provide the right support for children at risk of exclusion.

(ii)        Call on leaders to work together

Act on worrying variations in exclusion rates among certain groups of children. School leaders, governing boards and Directors of Children’s Services should collect and share data to develop understanding of how exclusion is used in local areas, so that they can identify disparities and act to reduce them, especially with reference to certain ethnic groups, those with special educational needs, or those who have social workers.

(iii)       Exclusion should be the start of something new and positive

Set out plans to improve outcomes for children who leave mainstream education and go into Alternative Provision (AP), and recognise good practice in AP, including support for AP to attract and develop high-quality teachers.

(iv)       Enable local authorities to establish forums

Schools, academies and other local services collaborate to plan support for vulnerable children who are at risk of leaving school, by exclusion or otherwise.

(v)        Act across Government

Act to support children who are at risk of being drawn into crime by deploying resources from the Youth Endowment Fund so that schools, academies and APs might benefit.

(vi)       Crack down on poor behaviour

The Government has already committed £10 million to help teachers crack down on poor behaviour in the classroom.  Tom Bennett was appointed as lead adviser to implement the pioneering programme. Continue with this programme where hundreds of schools and academies will benefit from networking with experts to help teachers and school leaders in need of support.

III        Commentary

(a)        Seven Lessons

According to Schools Week, those associated with schools and academies, especially governors, should take note of seven important matters arising from the report.

(1)        There are no proposals yet for how schools/academies will be accountable for excluded pupils, a pivotal recommendation of the report.  Damian Hinds, the ex-Secretary of State for Education, said that he would consult in the autumn term 2019 and, following responses from stakeholders, advise on how this would work.  Will Gavin Williamson, his successor, do so?  Who knows?

The DfE will consider a “right to return” for pupils to re-join the school/academy after leaving for home education.  There would, however, be new safeguards to avoid schools/academies admitting children where they don’t have grounds for it.

Schools/academies will also be required to submit information on their use of Alternative Provision units through the biannual census, including why leaders have commissioned APs and for how long pupils spend in them, including the regularity of attendance.

(2)        Hinds was committed to recognising the best APs as teaching schools so that they could share good practice across the system.  The DfE will consider how to boost the profession’s interest in teaching in APs – including new teacher training placements.  Timpson asked the government to inject capital funding to improve APs’ buildings and facilities so that they become attractive outfits.

(3)        Timpson requested the government to ensure that local authorities (LAs) be given a more egregious role in spearheading action with schools and academies at local level. He wanted LAs to become advocates for vulnerable children by hosting forums for all institutions to help them retain children at risk of exclusion.

(4)        At present, a school/academy may exclude a pupil for a fixed term of up to 45 working days in the year.  This will be reviewed, including the reasons for an exclusion so that they “are more accurately captured”.  The government is committed to looking carefully at the timing of adjustments to school/academy funding following exclusion to ensure that they don’t act as an incentive to exclude pupils permanently.  Hinds had agreed to changing regulations so that social workers would be notified when a child in need was moved out of a school/academy.

(5)        The exclusion guidance will be amended to include the definition of “off-rolling” (which is unethical if not illegal) leaving no room for doubt.

(6)        The DfE agreed to extend funding to equality and diversity hubs beyond the current spending review to “widen their reach and impact”.  Timpson called for a practice-improvement fund to develop good procedures on inclusion units and nurture groups.  The £200 million Youth Endowment Fund is testing interventions to prevent children from becoming involved in crime. Some of this will be used for schools, academies and APs.

(7)        The report asks Ofsted to recognise schools and academies that succeed in supporting all children.  Currently, many schools and academies are feeling that the watchdog clobbers them when they try to integrate difficult pupils that other institutions exclude and consider this unjust.

Timpson invited Ofsted to give schools and academies that are found to be off-rolling an inadequate rating for their leadership and management in all “but the most exceptional cases”.

(b)       Timpson’s glaring omission – Further Education

While the report was comprehensive and based on reliable research, there was one glaring omission, i.e. the work done by Further Education (FE) colleges to provide for youngsters from the ages of 14 upwards for whom the work done in their schools and academies is meaningless.  FE provides a lifeline for learners, especially working-class, white boys, on the fringes of education.  In 2016, the Sutton Trust found that white British boys on free school meals achieved the lowest grades in GCSEs of any main ethnic group, with just 24% gaining five A*-C grades, including English and mathematics.

“They have now been either the lowest- or second-lowest-performing ethnic group every year for a decade,” the charity said in its report. The figures also showed that white British girls on free school meals were the lowest-performing female ethnic group, with 32% achieving the same measure. At the time, 64.3% of disadvantaged pupils entering GCSEs were white British.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) mentioned that some groups of children were indeed more likely to be educated in APs or excluded, such as children in care, children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children in poverty. While the exact number of children who attend AP in FE colleges is not recorded, the Association of Colleges’ response to the committee’s inquiry said that there were 13,650 students aged 14-16 known to be studying in colleges.  Of them, just over 2,250 full-timers were at key stage 4 on direct-entry programmes. All others were enrolled on AP programmes in collaboration with schools, or partly home-educated.

(c)        Edward Timpson’s thoughts on his report

In reflecting on his report, Edward Timpson said: “No parent sends their (sic) child off to school believing they will end up being excluded but when this does happen we all need to be confident we have a well-functioning system that makes sure no child slips through the net. Exclusion from school should never mean exclusion from education.

“Throughout this review I have found too much variation in the use of exclusions and too many missed opportunities for children to remain in the education that best suits their needs.

“Although I did see examples of schools using exclusions appropriately and effectively, there is clear room for improvement and everyone – from teachers and parents, the Department for Education and Ofsted, to local authorities and children’s services – has their (sic) part to play.

“We expect school leaders to make sure all children are getting a good education, but we must equip them with the skills and capacity to do so. We need to reward schools who are doing this well and hold to account those who are not. Most importantly there must be safeguards in place for when things go wrong so that we can keep children on the path towards the successful future they all deserve.”

(d)       Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector’s (HMCI’s) take on exclusions

Writing in The Times Educational Supplement, HMCI Amanda Spielman reflects on the twin aspects of our educational system – autonomy and accountability – which appear to be antithetical but are meant to be “two sides of the same coin”.  Our schools and academies have considerable autonomy when compared to France and Italy, where education “is much more closely managed by central and local government.  The governments in both, for instance, hire all teachers and allocate them to schools.  Also, curriculum is specified.  However, such a system stifles growth.  Spielman states that the “literature suggests that there is less chance of such systems making the leap from good to great, through innovation, research and evaluation”.

There should be a tradeoff between risk and reward (according to Spielman).  It is impossible for a kite to fly high (the reward) – giving the appearance of freedom and abandon – without a steady wind blowing against it (the risk).   [My words.]  However, there must be a steady hand on the string/twine attached to the kite.  For our system, that steady hand is a mix of the governing and trust boards, the local authorities, the government and Ofsted exercising their powers responsibly.  Spielman focuses on the inspectorate, stating the it “has powers to fine schools for not complying with their (Ofsted’s) recommendations, and close schools down”.

Notwithstanding, Spielman said, when addressing the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT): “I have defended the right of heads to exclude permanently in the small number of cases where it is necessary to do so.  It cannot be right that the ultimate sanction if used properly be removed from headteachers.”

(e)        Closing Thoughts

Before closing, I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the work of Dr Simon Edwards, senior lecturer in youth studies at the University of Portsmouth, who has spent three decades with young people across mainstream and alternative provision as a teacher, running specialist units for children with challenging behaviour  and for those who have run out of educational options.

The author of Re-Engaging Young People with Education: the steps after disengagement and exclusion, Dr Edwards told Jon Severs of The Times Educational Supplement, “Every child I have met wants an education. But something about education is not coming through for some young people. Is that education offer transformative? Do they think they can use that to help them become what they want to be?”

Why do some children disengage with education leading so frequently to exclusion?  His research led him to conclude that there were external factors around trauma in the home and events taking place outside the school gates.  “When you look at a child’s behaviour in the classroom, you cannot disassociate it from family background,” he explains. “I think there is a series of coinciding events that sometimes occurs in a classroom that leads to that child not being able to engage in the classroom with learning.”

A second cause is around cultural and academic language – the kind that is alien to a pupil and causes him (more often a “him” than a “her”) to behave badly leading to exclusion.

On culture, Edwards states that a school sometimes sets standards which (unintentionally) lead to inaccurate judgements of children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. “I have met headteachers, particularly in low-income areas, who say kids need to have grit and determination and they need to raise their aspirations. I am like, ‘What are you on about?’” he says. “These young people who I work with want to be like their parents. A builder or a hairdresser. Or do admin. They have aspirations.

“You are just saying you want them to have the same aspirations as a middle-class child. But if you have a middle-class child who wants to be a doctor or a teacher like their (sic) own parents, then actually they might not have high aspirations; their aspirations may actually be lower if you consider where they are starting from. I did some research with kids from a very deprived area where aspirations were through the roof. And their aspirations were realistic.”

These were systemic issues and the child takes the rap resulting in disengagement from learning.  Schools and academies are caught in a bind, made to meet governmental and Ofsted standards and force children into a “conveyor belt” of educational provision to achieve good test and examination results.  Vulnerable children then become the victims; they are expelled and become the broken fragments of our society.

If parents are to work collaboratively with schools and academies, they will want to learn from the institutions about strategies that could turn around the behaviour of their children rather than have their children dumped back on them.  But then, is that possible when schools and academies have to deal with the problem of diminishing finances and the constant pressures placed upon them to enable their pupils achieve good outcomes – by way of test and examination results?

Dr Edwards and a colleague, Evie Harris, made the following recommendations on the back of research they undertook about challenging students.

  • Make the education on offer in schools accessible and appropriate for these students.
  • Validate the learning gained in arts-based subjects in line with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
  • Make the pathways to a good life that the education on offer claims to provide clear and explicit.
  • Ensure that behaviour policies purporting to enable student attainment are seen to achieve this goal and ensure that they are perceived to be fair.

Perhaps, if this had been the case, the three students (mentioned at the start of this article) who fixed the car of the inspectors would not have been able to do so (because they would have been at school) and the inspectors would not have been able to inspect their school.

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