DfE to consult over exclusion accountability plans

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are to be made accountable for the pupils they exclude in a bid to clamp down on “off-rolling” and variations in practice between schools. Pete Henshaw reports

Seventy-eight per cent of permanent exclusions are issued to SEN pupils, those classified as “in need”, or those eligible for free school meals. One in 10 are issued to pupils with all three characteristics.

The alarming finding is among those in Edward Timpson’s government-commissioned review of exclusions, which published its final report on Tuesday (May 7).

The 128-page report makes 30 recommendations – all of which have been accepted in principle by the government – and highlights variations in exclusions practice.

Among the recommendations, schools are now to be made accountable for the pupils they exclude. The Department for Education (DfE) is to launch a consultation over these plans later this year, although it has ruled out limiting the number of exclusions a school can make.

The review also recommends Ofsted give greater recognition to schools who use exclusion “appropriately”. It also wants to see updated statutory guidance on exclusion to “provide more clarity” on its use.

However, the Association of School and College Leaders has warned that any accountability measures must be “sensible, fair and fit-for-purpose”. It also said it was “disappointed” that the review did not acknowledge the role of funding cuts in hampering early intervention and SEN support in schools.

The report reveals that while 85 per cent of all mainstream schools did not expel a single child in 2016/17 (including 43 per cent of all state secondary schools), 0.2 per cent expelled more than 10 (all of which are secondaries).

It also finds that vulnerable groups are much more likely to be excluded. Pupils with social, emotional and mental health difficulties, but no Statement, are at least three times more likely to be permanently excluded than a non-SEN child; children on FSM are 45 per cent more likely to be excluded; while students with a Child Protection Plan are around 3.5 times more likely to be excluded.

Certain ethnic groups, including Bangladeshi and Indian pupils, have lower rates of exclusion than White British pupils, while other ethnic groups, such as Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean pupils, experience higher rates.

The report states: “While drawing firm conclusions on why individual characteristics impact the likelihood of exclusion is difficult, the data is clear that there are certain groups of children who may already be facing significant challenges in their lives outside of school, who are most likely to be excluded.”

The review also adds its voice to the increasing concerns over “off-rolling” practices – when children are removed from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion (or when parents are encouraged to remove their child) and the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than the pupil.

Mr Timpson said that growing concerns over off-rolling raised by the likes of Ofsted and children’s commissioner Anne Longfield were “reinforced by what this review has seen and heard”.

The report states: “As well as anecdotal reports and accounts of off-rolling from parents and carers, teachers and local authorities, one headteacher who spoke to this review reported that off-rolling took place in his own school. There is a clear need for the government to do more to understand the scale of this problem and the impact it is having on those involved, but from the cases seen, it is apparent that there are some children who end up in unsuitable education or with no education at all, exposed to even greater risks.”

The review says there are many examples of excellent practice in schools, including on-site units staffed by experts, transition programmes for vulnerable pupils, or those that commission high-quality part-time provision to re-engage pupils.

However, the review warns that the current performance and funding system does not “incentivise or reward schools for taking responsibility for the needs of all children and using permanent exclusion only when nothing else will do”.

It adds: “It cannot be right to have a system where some schools could stand to improve their performance and finances through exclusion, but do not have to bear the cost of expensive non-mainstream provision these children then attend, nor be held accountable for the outcomes of the children they permanently exclude.”

Among the 30 recommendations accepted by the DfE, the review says that ministers should update statutory guidance on exclusion to “provide more clarity” on its use. Guidance on the use of in-school units should also be “strengthened”.

The DfE should also review the training and support available to SENCOs and given during initial teacher training, and should set-up a Practice Improvement Fund to help identify and spread best practice approaches such as in-school units, nurture groups, transition support, parental engagement, and early intervention.

On accountability, the review recommends: “The DfE should make schools responsible for the children they exclude and accountable for their educational outcomes. It should consult on how to take this forward, working with schools, alternative provision and local authorities to design clear roles in which schools should have greater control over the funding for alternative provision to allow them to discharge these duties efficiently and effectively. Funding should also be of a sufficient level and flexible enough to ensure schools are able to put in place alternative interventions that avoid the need for exclusion where appropriate, as well as fund alternative provision after exclusion.”

The review also said that “Ofsted should recognise those who use exclusion appropriately and effectively”, including “consistently recognising schools who succeed in supporting all children, including those with additional needs, to remain positively engaged in mainstream”.

Responding to the review, education secretary Damian Hinds has already revealed plans for a £10 million scheme to tackle bad behaviour involving 500 schools. This is to be led by behaviour expert and former teacher Tom Bennett, who led the recent national review to identify the best ways of dealing with disruptive behaviour in schools.

The programme will develop a network of expert schools that have “exemplary behaviour management practices and effective whole-school cultures”. They will work with other schools “offering advice on ways to better manage behaviour using measures that have been proven to have an effect”.

Mr Hinds said: “This pivotal review demonstrates widespread good practice in support for students and in the use of exclusions, and I will continue to back headteachers in creating safe and orderly environments that enable teachers to teach and provide the right learning conditions for pupils – and sometimes exclusion will be the final option.

“Exclusion should not be considered the end point for any child; it has to be the start of something new and positive – with alternative provision offering smaller class sizes and tailored support.

“We also need to support those most at risk of exclusion, taking action before exclusion happens. Too many children can fall through the cracks, so I want schools to be accountable for the pupils they exclude, alongside tackling the practice of illegal off-rolling. This is not an easy answer, but it is one that will help the most vulnerable children in our society to fulfil their potential.”

Responding to the review, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, questioned the lack of focus on issues of funding.

He said: “It is disappointing that the issue of school funding has not been given anywhere near enough weight in Mr Timpson’s report and has been entirely ignored in the Department for Education’s response.

“The current level of funding is so desperately inadequate that many schools have had to cut back on support staff who provide early intervention to children with challenging behaviour.

“This makes it more difficult to prevent challenging behaviour escalating to the point of exclusion, and we believe this has fuelled the rise in the rate of exclusions in recent years. Schools must have the funding they so clearly need.”


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