Skip to main content

School Exclusion: Timpson Review

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, last March the Government commissioned Edward Timpson to explore how head teachers use exclusion and why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others. The review and the Government’s response are published today and I have placed copies in the House Libraries.

The Timpson review is thorough and extensive. I want to thank Edward and all those he worked with during the review, including schools, local authorities, parents, carers and children. Exclusion rates have risen over recent years but are lower than they were a decade ago, and permanent exclusion or expulsion remains a rare event. Some 85% of all mainstream schools did not expel a single child in the academic year 2016-17. Edward Timpson’s review found excellent practice across the school system but also variation across different schools, local authorities and groups of children. The Government agree with Edward Timpson’s conclusion that there is no “right” level of exclusion that we should aim for, but we do need to examine why there are differences in exclusion rates for pupils with different characteristics and in different parts of the country.

I want teachers to be free to teach and pupils to be free to learn in a safe and ordered environment, so I absolutely support head teachers when they conclude that they need to suspend a pupil in response to poor behaviour or to expel them as a last resort. But it is vital that we support schools to give pupils at risk of exclusion the best chance to succeed, and ensure that, for those children who are permanently excluded, this is also the start of something new and positive. I am clear that, where exclusion is the right decision to take and you are excluded from a school, you must not be excluded from high-quality education. This matters because excluded children include some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged, with a third classed as “children in need”: that is, children who are known to social services. Overall, when children from ethnic minorities are compared with white British children, there is no substantial difference in exclusion rates. The review found that children from some groups, such as black Caribbean children, are more likely to be excluded than white British children, while children from other groups such as Indian children are less likely.

The Government’s response to Timpson is based on four core commitments. We will always support head teachers to maintain a safe and orderly environment for pupils and staff. We will support schools to give pupils at risk of exclusion the best chance to succeed. We will make it much clearer when and how it is appropriate for head teachers to remove children from their school; and, at the same time, we will make sure that there is sufficient oversight when they are. Finally, we will do more to support schools and alternative providers so that excluded pupils continue to receive a high-quality education.

To deliver this, the Government are today committing to the following actions. First, we will make schools accountable for the outcomes of permanently excluded children. We know that this is complex and needs to be done in a way that is fair to schools and pupils, so we will work with education leaders over the summer to design a consultation, to be launched in the autumn, on how to deliver this in practice. As part of the consultation, we will also look at the implications of any changes to the way that alternative provision is commissioned and funded, and how we can mitigate the potential unintended consequences that Edward Timpson identified, including how to tackle the practice of “off-rolling”. We will establish a practice programme to drive better partnership working between local authorities, schools, alternative provision and partners, building on the excellent practice that Timpson identified in his review.

We will work with sector experts, led by the department’s lead adviser on behaviour, Tom Bennett, to rewrite our guidance, including on exclusions, behaviour and discipline in schools, by the summer of next year. We will call on local authorities, governing bodies, academy trusts and local forums of schools to establish a shared understanding of the characteristics of children who leave school, by exclusion or otherwise. Our expectation is that this information will be used to inform improvements in practice and reduce disparities in the likelihood of exclusion between different groups of pupils.

We will work with Ofsted to both define—so there is greater clarity for school leaders—and tackle the practice of off-rolling, whereby children are removed from school rolls without formal exclusion in ways that are in the interests of the school rather than the pupil. We believe that this practice is relatively rare, but we are clear that it is unacceptable.

Finally, this autumn we will set out our plans for alternative provision, including more on how we will support alternative providers to attract and develop high-quality staff through a new alternative provision workforce programme, and how we will help commissioners and providers to identify and recognise good practice.

Before concluding, I want to address the issue of violent crime, particularly knife crime, which has tragically taken the lives of far too many young people. The issues surrounding serious violence, anti-social behaviour, and absence and exclusion from school are complex, which is why we are working with the education and care sectors, the Home Office and other departments as part of a comprehensive, multi-agency response. While exclusion is a marker for increased risk of being both a victim and a perpetrator of crime, we must be careful not to draw a simple causal link between exclusions and knife crime. There is no clear evidence to support that. I am clear, though, that engagement with and success in education is a protective factor for children. The measures outlined in our response to Timpson will play a key role in ensuring that every young person is safe and free to fulfil their potential away from violent crime.

I would like to thank all colleagues on all sides of the House who have taken a close interest in this area, and I mention in particular my right honourable friend the Member for Harlow for both his and his committee’s work on this important issue, in particular its inquiry into alternative provision, which has helped shape government thinking. Most of all, I would like to thank Edward Timpson and all those he worked with during the review. In taking forward our response, like him, we too will take a consultative and collaborative approach, to learn from those who carry out valuable and often challenging work teaching, supporting and caring for excluded children and those who are at risk of exclusion. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for repeating this important Statement, and I join him in thanking Edward Timpson and all those who contributed to this report.

It is a fact that too many children are being written off as failures, with tragic consequences. Permanent exclusions have risen by 40% in the past three years, and analysis carried out by Barnardo’s found that one in three local authorities in England has nowhere for excluded children to go, leaving them socially excluded and at serious risk of being groomed and exploited by criminal gangs. This is simply not acceptable. Urgent action is required to help schools reduce the number of children who are excluded. It is therefore imperative that those schools have the necessary resources to support pupils at risk of exclusion, especially those with more complex social needs.

We know that the most vulnerable children in society are more likely to be permanently excluded. Indeed, analysis found that 78% of permanent exclusions were issued to children who had special educational needs or who were eligible for free school meals. It is also worth noting that Traveller children of Irish heritage have the highest rate of permanent exclusion, followed by Gypsy and Roma children. However, as this House has noted in recent debates, school budgets are £1.7 billion lower in real terms than they were just five years ago. As a result of the shortfall, special needs provision in England has lost out on some £1.2 billion since 2015. Does the Minister share my concern, and that of others, that the current level of funding is so desperately inadequate that many schools have had to cut back on support staff who provide key support and early intervention for children with challenging behaviour? Here I am thinking of teacher assistants.

Exclusions must be used only as a last resort; on that I think we are all agreed. However, as Mr Timpson emphasised, “exclusion from school” should never be allowed to become “exclusion from education”—and yet sadly that is what has been happening over the past few years. It is clear that the Government must do more to improve the availability and quality of alternative provision, to ensure that every child, particularly the most vulnerable, gets the education they need to achieve a positive future. However, the latest wave of free schools included just two specialising in alternative provision. Does the Minister recognise that restrictions on new schools imposed by this Government have seriously constrained the ability local authorities have to address the lack of services in some areas without allowing other schools to be built?

I would also like to touch on the shameful practice of off-rolling, which the Statement dealt with, where schools try to remove pupils who cause problems or who might lower exam league table performance. Pupils moved in this way miss out on the support they would receive via the formal exclusion process, and are hidden from scrutiny and due process. Schools must be made accountable, not only for permanently excluded pupils but for those who leave their rolls in other ways and circumstances. Will the Minister advise the House what action the Government are taking to address this phenomenon? The Statement makes plain that this is accepted as an issue, and we must ensure that no child is left behind.

To conclude, although the Opposition broadly agree with the recommendations of the review, we remain concerned at what is not included. The Government’s response to the report makes no mention of the impact of cuts to schools, nor have they outlined a credible plan for how improved outcomes for pupils in alternative provision will be achieved. This falls far short of where we believe we should be going on this issue.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for the Statement that he has read, and I thank Edward Timpson for his report. It is not a surprising report, really —we all knew that this was going on—and I always wonder why we need to wait for a report before taking action. It is an absolute scandal that 40 pupils a day are permanently excluded from school and 2,200 pupils every day are put on a system of semi-exclusion. What happens? Well, two things happen. First, if they are lucky, they get put into alternative provision, and most of that alternative provision is unregistered. We have heard what the chief inspector has said about unregistered schools—that they are unsafe and that vulnerable young people are put in a very unhelpful situation. Many of them, if they are not put into a proper alternative provider, get involved in gang culture, and we know where that can lead. So why does the report not say absolutely clearly that unregistered schools for alternative provision should not be allowed and that we should take action against them? These vulnerable young people need to be in the most supportive environment with the best qualified and trained teachers.

Secondly, on the issue of knife crime, I welcome the idea of having a multiagency discussion to look at how we deal with this, but it is sad that there is no mention of the youth service. We should be investing in the youth service and, in particular, in detached youth workers.

Then we come to the issue of off-rolling, which has already been mentioned. Again, it is a scandal that schools can just off-roll pupils—often the most vulnerable pupils, including those with special educational needs. Nowhere does the report say why schools are allowed to off-roll. Why are schools off-rolling? We know that they off-roll because they want to do well in their school inspection and in their league table results, but, again, that should not be allowed. Also, when a pupil is off-rolled from a school, who is responsible for that pupil? Not the school or the local authority—the pupil is in limbo.

I hope the Minister might address those three issues. Finally, I am sure he would agree that it would be useful to have a proper debate on this issue in your Lordships’ House.

I will respond to the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Storey. On permanent exclusions, last year 85% of schools had none at all, so it is important to put the issue in some perspective. But we are not complacent in any way—that is why we commissioned Timpson last year to undertake his review.

That flows into the issue of off-rolling, which greatly concerned both noble Lords. The term has crept into usage only in the past two or three years, and when we initially commissioned Edward Timpson to undertake his review it was not in common usage, but he has expanded the report to deal with it. It is important to reassure noble Lords that off-rolling is an unlawful practice, so it is not something that a school can do legitimately. We are focusing on this partly through the changes to the Ofsted inspection framework, for example, which will come in in September, which will ramp up the inspection process to ensure that such things are not going on. Ofsted will look at children who have left the school roll and interrogate the school as to why they have left and where they are.

I am grateful that the Minister has said that off-rolling is illegal, but have the Government actually challenged any of the schools that have off-rolled? Is there any data on that?

I am not aware of any specific data, but from this September, with the new Ofsted inspection framework, it will be very clear in any inspection that the issue will be under the spotlight in a way that is not the case at the moment. As we know, Ofsted has quite a lot of power to change behaviours in the system, so I am optimistic that we will see a change in behaviour. I also think that the public debate about off-rolling has changed behaviours already in those schools where it may or may not have been going on. One of the Timpson recommendations also asks us to look at the convoluted and complicated system of coding of attendance, which allows a lot of opacity—that will also help.

On funding, we are very aware that funding is tight in the system, but it is important to place on record that we have increased SEND funding from £5 billion in 2013 to £6.3 billion in the current year, and we have opened 42 AP free schools since the free school programme began.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Timpson report and the reaction to it that we have heard from the Minister tonight. I hope that it will lead to a significant reduction in the number of pupils who are excluded—or off-rolled or home educated or sent to PRUs—which has grown far too much in the past few years.

It is very welcome to see that the consultation process that the Minister announced is so wide, and I am glad that he is in charge—he is the Minister in the department who is driving this policy, and we should be grateful for that. In the consultation process, I hope that he will ask the head teacher who excludes to meet with the local authority and the parents to determine a plan for the education of the student who is being excluded, and to review that plan, and for Ofsted to examine it in its inspections.

The Minister should also not exclude the possibility of some financial support for parents when they have to take on the responsibility of educating their children. One cost that should certainly be paid for by the school is for the examinations that the student takes. Those cost about £300 to £400 per set of examinations and, as those now have to be announced, that is the very least that should be provided for them.

In general, I warmly support the report. This is a major step forward in the education system.

I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for his supportive comments, and I agree with everything that he said. There are 30 recommendations in the Timpson report, and we are broadly supportive of all of them. However, Timpson stresses that we need to be careful about how we implement any of his recommendations and that we should have careful consultation with key stakeholders, parents in particular, on how we take matters forward. For example, by making permanent exclusions more difficult, we do not want to push the problem into another bucket such as off-rolling or misuse of the different attendance codes. But we all share the objective that we want to reduce the problem in the system.

My Lords, 70% of pupils excluded from school have special educational needs. In their response to the report, the Government have promised to review the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice by the end of next year. I am not clear from the Statement whether that review will be included in the work to be undertaken by Tom Bennett. Specifically, on the review of the SEND code of practice, can the Minister say what the terms of reference of the review will be, who will conduct it and who will be invited to give evidence?

My Lords, I do not have a specific answer to those questions at the moment. I am happy to write to the noble Lord. The Tom Bennett behaviour initiative will be available to the whole school system. The idea is that we will have behaviour support networks available to all schools; that is why, again, it will not be rolled out until next year.

My Lords, I too warmly welcome this report and the Government’s support for its recommendations. Will the Minister look carefully at investment and continuing professional development for teachers? It is so important that teachers maintain empathy for their pupils. An opportunity for good professional development, allowing teachers to stand back and try to put themselves in the shoes of their students, can prevent them feeling demoralised and attacked by pupils; rather, they may feel sympathetic and want to work for them. I ask the Minister also to look again at the punitive role of Ofsted. When I have raised this with him in the past, he has said that it is part of our cultural identity in this country. The continentals have a much more supportive inspectorate. Reducing the pressure—and the culture of pressure—on schools will help ensure that fewer children are excluded in the way that we are seeing far too often. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, to answer the noble Earl’s question on teacher training, we are increasing awareness of the training available on such things as having mental health leads in schools. We have also committed to a programme of training 200 psychiatrists and psychotherapists to go into the school system. We are very aware that we need to increase the skillsets available to schools to deal with the wide range of issues confronting them. I understand the noble Earl’s concerns about Ofsted as an institution. We are trying to create a cultural change here, but I am optimistic that the new framework will move some way to addressing his concerns. We have done a lot. For example, when my right honourable friend became the Secretary of State for Education, he did a joint video with the Chief Inspector of Schools to try to get the message through on issues such as workload and looking at data. It is a piece of work that we will have to continue.

My Lords, I welcome this report but might the matter of exclusions be a feature of the Government’s relentless concentration on the academic success of schools, which marginalises students with more technical and practical skills and, indeed, those who simply want to be good, rounded citizens? Can the Minister say what happened to the excellent work done by Charlie Taylor, the coalition Government’s expert on behaviour, some seven years ago? He had some great systems for enabling some of the worst offenders to change their ways. He talked about positive measures to improve attendance rather than the very negative message of stopping exclusions.

My Lords, without sounding complacent, I think it is important to give some perspective to the current exclusion rate. It is about the same as it was 10 years ago; it improved but it has got worse in the last three years. I do not want to paint a picture of there being a crisis. I accept that we are concerned, and we are doing something about it, but it would be wrong to suggest that there is a crisis. Regarding attendance, we have made quite a lot of improvement. The persistent absence rates have dropped quite a lot. Looking again at a 10-year ranking, in 2006-07, 24.9% of secondary schools had persistent absence of more than 10%; that is now down to just under 14% of secondary schools, and that is while raising the bar to make it a harder judgment. So attendance is improving. I do not have the specific information on Charlie Taylor’s work; I am happy to write to the noble Baroness. The Tom Bennett review will be in a similar vein, showing schools best practice and how to manage children in these situations.

My Lords, I welcome the report. I think Edward Timpson is highly regarded across all sides of the House, and this is a thorough piece of work on which we should build. Having said that, I am disappointed in the Government’s response. It seems very woolly, with rather a lot of waffle. The recommendations tend to be about rewriting guidance and setting up a committee. Looking quickly through them, I honestly cannot see much that is new. There is not one big—or even small—idea that I would see as fresh thinking in response to a good report.

In particular—I ask the Minister to have a look—behaviour partnerships were abolished in 2010 by Michael Gove as part of his bonfire of the quangos. As the Minister is setting them up again, perhaps he could look at the good practice followed under the last years of the Labour Government. If my memory serves me right—it may not—I think the Labour Government also had a proposal whereby the examination performance of excluded children stayed for two years with the school from which they had been excluded. That must have been got rid of at some point by the Conservatives or the coalition. Can the Minister reassure us that he will learn from that and will not reinvent the wheel?

My main point is that I am not sure whether or not we are talking about fixed-term exclusions. When we talk about 85% of schools not excluding, that does not include the many schools who have fixed-term exclusions; these run at 500 times more than permanent exclusions at some 2,000 per day. Will the Minister tell us whether what he has said applies to fixed-term exclusions? I am interested in two figures. First, how many children who are eventually permanently excluded have already gone through a series of fixed-term exclusions? I bet it is almost every single one of them. Secondly, does he have the figures on exclusion by type of school—that is, maintained schools and academies?

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asks about the difference between permanent and fixed-term exclusions. She is right; I have been quoting the figures for permanent exclusions, because that is the final sanction that exists for a school.

I accept that there is a ladder of escalation, which starts with sanctions that gradually move up in their impact. I disagree slightly with the noble Baroness on the strength of the recommendations in the Timpson report. For me, the stand-out recommendation is number 14:

“DfE should make schools responsible for the children they exclude and accountable for their educational outcomes”.

This has the potential to be a very powerful change, but Timpson has cautioned us to be careful in how we implement it, because of the adverse behaviours that it might create.

My Lords, the report and the Government’s responses to the key recommendations keep talking about special educational needs and integration of the approach. Of course, I applaud this; I remind the House of my declared interests. However, unless you have some form of recognition and identification earlier on in the system, you will always be playing catch-up. We know that many of the groups we are talking about will have unidentified, or undealt with, special educational needs.

The report and the Government’s response talk about enhancing the role of SENCOs. SENCOs are one person in the system and they will not be experts in every condition they have to deal with. Will the Government make sure there is better access at a school or at academy-chain level to expertise in those commonly occurring conditions? We know that three children in every class will be dyslexic, one will be dyspraxic and several will have ADHD. Unless you have that expertise on hand, it will always be a problem and we will always be playing catch-up. If you go to the local authority, there will be terrible problems with co-ordination. How will the Government start to address this?

Again, I would like to provide a certain amount of moderation. This is not to be complacent but, for example, about 10 years ago, children with a statement were three times more likely to be excluded compared to being 1.6 times more likely to be excluded in 2016-17. The picture is not quite as bleak as the noble Lord—

My Lords, I said that the main problem is for those with unidentified special educational needs, or those whose needs are identified later on. Often it is those people who have marginal problems, which are magnified by their social condition.

The noble Lord will be aware of the training programme we have rolled out over the last three years. We are very focused on this and the number of people trained to identify dyslexia, dyspraxia and so on in the school system has increased dramatically over the last three years.

My Lords, the encouraging news of this review is long overdue. For nine years, I was privileged to be president of YMCA England. What I discovered and learned in those years was the complexity of the problems facing young people who were vulnerable and in difficulty. When I talked with some of those in young offender institutions, their lives were such a nightmare that it was not surprising that they were in such institutions. It is wise that the Government intend to keep the terms of reference for this inquiry as wide as possible because one has to look at the complexities of the situation, including the social context of the community in which the school exists.

One also has to look at the whole issue of the systems we use to monitor education—league tables, and so on. There are too many examples of ill-informed heads putting children out because they might affect the place that the school secures in a league table. All these issues must be looked at if the review is to be of use. One of the most important things we need to look at, and I hope the review will do so, is the context of society as a whole. What are the values that young people see operating in society and how does this help them to re-establish themselves as positive members of society, who contribute to it?

The noble Lord is right: this is an immensely complex area. Trying to unpick it and come up with a coherent way of dealing with all the issues that spring from it is very difficult. For example, Afro-Caribbean children have a substantially higher chance of being excluded than white working-class children, but we are not clear why. That is just one example.

On children understanding the values of our society, that is why we have worked so hard on the relationship and sex education legislation; we were able to bring that through with the support of this House very recently. That will help to reinforce the values that children should learn. Equally, we are trying to tackle that with the work we are now doing on the consultation on home education and children who are not in school. All these things conflate and our job is to try to bring together a package of initiatives that will improve the outcomes for these very vulnerable children.

My Lords, did the Minister read the article in the Times a few weeks ago about children who come from dysfunctional homes? I have recently had dealings with a young man, a 13 year-old, who ticked every single box in that article. He had been suspended from school, put into isolation and blamed for his condition. He was behaving badly at school. Fortunately, he has a cousin who took him in hand during the Easter holidays and showed him he was loved. He was just seeking love and attention. His mother used him as a lackey and a boot-boy; she did not care whether he went to school, or what he wore there, or whether he was fed. He did not sleep properly and when he went to stay with the cousin at the weekend, all he did was sleep. It is very important for school staff—teachers in particular—to understand the handicaps that these children have to face before they punish them. It is not their fault.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, is absolutely right. Last week, I visited Christ’s Hospital School in Sussex. I do not know if noble Lords are familiar with it, but it is a boarding school where about 70% of the pupils are in receipt of some sort of means-tested bursary. They spoke about a girl there who I will call Anna, who is 16 years old. She came from a very broken home and does not want to see her parents again. She is a potential Oxbridge candidate. She has nowhere to go in the holidays and, because of the complexity of safeguarding rules, she cannot stay with one of the teachers in the school, so she has to stay in a YMCA hostel. I felt that was very dispiriting. It gives a snapshot of just how complex the areas we are dealing with are. We are doing all we can to try to help; that is my main reason for being in this job. It is the children who are most disadvantaged who need our help the most.

Will greater support and guidance be available to the parents of children excluded or in danger of being excluded under the initiatives that are to follow the Timpson review? Does my noble friend agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that the decline of the youth service in certain areas has perhaps contributed to the problems that now exist?

There will certainly be more guidance—for example, for parents considering home schooling. We very much need to uprate the guidance so that they understand the implications of that. As for the youth service, we are doing all we can to try to improve the advice available to young people. For example, a great deal of effort is going in through the Careers & Enterprise Company to try to show them the pathways into skills; the uprating of apprenticeships will give them a higher profile; and T-levels will also help. These are all aimed at children who are less sure of the path into a secure career.

My Lords, the Minister talked of the need for a careful consultation—I am sure that is right—but one of the conclusions of that consultation may well be that extra cash is needed. Is any bid being made by the department to the spending review? If there is not a request for additional funding, it could have to top-slice its own budgets, and obviously it is important that any such top-slicing be avoided.

My Lords, I welcome this report, but after listening to my colleagues in the House of Lords I think there is one area that would help parents: looking at health visitors. We hardly see any health visitors wherever we go. It is good to bring them in to help them to understand the education process.

We have committed to the deployment of mental health leads in schools over the last two years, and they are being rolled out as we speak. Good mental health is an absolute priority. We recently issued the Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health. We are aiming to incentivise and support schools and colleges to identify and train a mental health lead. We are introducing new mental health support teams and are teaching about mental health in the new health education curriculum that will come into place in September next year.