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School Exclusions: Timpson Review

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

I am very grateful to Edward Timpson for the thorough work he has been leading on exclusions. The review has gathered substantial evidence and will report shortly, and I will then respond.

The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which I chair, found through an extensive freedom of information request that a third of local authorities have no space left in their pupil referral units. We know that excluded children who are not offered a full-time place at a pupil referral unit are at an increased risk of being involved in crime. We were told that the Timpson review was finalised last year. We are still waiting for a publication date to be confirmed. When will the Secretary of State confirm that date, and when will the Government act?

I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she and her colleagues do on the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which is a terrible scourge for us all to grapple with. I am not in a position to give her a date for publication of the Timpson review. It will be soon, but we have to be careful not to draw a simple causal link between exclusions and knife crime.

According to the most recent figures collected by the Education Policy Institute, in one year nearly 55,000 children have disappeared from school rolls without explanation. The Secretary of State cannot tell us why, nor can he for those excluded officially, because his Department collects no further information on them. While we wait for Timpson to report, will the Secretary of State commit to my call—one that is supported by Ofsted, the National Education Union and many people across education—to scrap the “other” category as a reason for exclusion, which now represents 20% of exclusions in our schools on his watch?

To continue the theme of simple links that should not be drawn, it would be wrong to associate that figure of 55,000 with any one category. There are many reasons why children may be taken out of school—for example, emigration. We are concerned, of course, about exclusions. That is why I invited Edward Timpson to carry out this review. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what he has to say, but we will report back soon.

As well as having concerns about delays to the review, I am concerned about other forms of exclusion that may fall out of scope. I am aware in my constituency of the use of isolation units in schools, where students are removed from lessons and placed in single booths to work on their own, often for several days at a time, with no therapeutic intervention, as a form of punishment for poor behaviour. Often that results in the student no longer going to school. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss ending the draconian use of isolation units?

I know that there was a good debate on related matters recently in the House. We support headteachers and schools in making decisions on proportionate use of behaviour management. It is important that that is proportionate, but headteachers and schools are generally in the best position to make those judgments. We also issue guidance from the centre, which we keep under review.

22. What message does the Secretary of State have for those who volunteer to exclude themselves from school to take part in climate change protests, given that they seem disproportionately likely to attend schools that are fond of organising long-haul flights across the world to take part in ski trips, social visits and even a netball match in Barbados in one case? (910577)

I am delighted when children and young people take an active interest in these incredibly important issues, and on a number of environmental topics children and young people have very much taken the lead, but my message to them is: on a Friday afternoon, the best place for you to be is in school. That is where you can learn to be a climate scientist or an engineer and solve these problems in the future. Being absent from school tends to disrupt learning for others and causes an additional workload for your teachers.

Exclusion should only be used as a last resort, but it is worth remembering the disruption that the child can cause to everybody else’s education in a class. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how the number of exclusions is going as a trend—for instance, was it higher 10 years ago?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right that permanent exclusion should be a last resort, and in my experience of headteachers, it is: it is a decision that they come to after a great deal of soul searching. He is also right that as well as the effect on the individual child, we have to think about the effect on the other 27 children in the class and, indeed, the staff in the school. There has been an upward trend in the number of exclusions in the past few years, but it has not reached the highs we saw under previous Labour Governments.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that when permanent exclusions do happen, it should not be the end of something, but the start of something new and positive to get that child’s education back on track? Will he look at whether powers are needed by the regional schools commissioners to enable them to work with local education authorities to ensure excluded children are not just left wandering the streets?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend that exclusion must be the start of something new and positive, as well as the end of something, and that is why the quality of alternative provision is so important. I pay tribute to the brilliant staff and leaders who work in our alternative provision settings, 84% of which are rated good or outstanding. However, we know there is always more that can be done, and that is why we have our innovation fund and other initiatives.

The Secretary of State surely knows that he lost nearly 9,500 pupils on his watch last year. They went off roll, and we had no idea where they went. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith), one in 12 pupils who began secondary school in 2012 and finished in 2017 were removed from school rolls. Given the scale of the problem, will the Secretary of State not tell us when the Timpson review will be published and commit to Labour’s pledge that schools should retain responsibility for the results of the pupils they exclude?

I have not ruled that out, as the hon. Gentleman will know. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the consultation we have put out on children not in school and on maintaining a register of children not in school, including the duty to make sure that extra help is provided for home educating parents, where they seek it. There have always been absences from school, as he will know. We have made great progress over the years on absence and persistent absence from school, but we need to make sure that more is done.