Head teachers have always been able to use their discretion to exclude pupils for persistently poor behaviour, especially where rules or policies have been broken that would reflect badly on the school or put other students or staff at risk of serious harm. Yet the way in which schools exclude pupils has recently been a subject of much debate in education circles.
Why are people talking about school exclusions?
Over recent years, there have been many headlines about schools excluding pupils, either for a set time period or permanently. The evidence pointed to an increase in the number of pupils being excluded, and concerns were raised by education professionals that children with special educational needs/disabilities (SEND) were more likely than their non-SEND peers to face exclusion. There were even suggestions that some exclusions, including those of SEND pupils, were being imposed for the benefit of the school rather than the pupil, especially where children were removed from the school roll before taking their exams, to benefit the school’s league table positions – a practice known as ‘off-rolling’. In these instances, pressure is said to have been applied to parents to withdraw their child from the school setting and home educate them, or seek alternative provision (AP).
The issue became such a hot topic that the Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into Alternative Provision and published its findings in 2018. Then, to find out how deep-rooted the problem is and whether or not some schools were abusing the right to exclude pupils by encouraging off-rolling, the government looked into the matter. They asked former Children and Families Minister Sir Edward Timpson to head an investigation, which is why the findings have been dubbed ‘The Timpson Review’, which was published recently, much later than expected. The delays to the release of the report speak to the delicacy and challenges of the investigation, which led to what Tes described as a “behind-the-scenes struggle over proposals to curtail schools’ exclusion powers”.
Is it wrong to exclude children from school?
Schools and the government maintain that there should be a right to exclude pupils where such action is appropriate. All parents want their children to do well at school, and for teachers to be able to deliver lessons without losing precious learning time to dealing with poor pupil behaviour. There will be instances where head teachers feel they have no alternative but to exclude a pupil, where all other options have been exhausted and exclusion is the best outcome for making sure the school maintains a calm, orderly environment for its pupils, teachers and parents. There will also be some instances where a mainstream school setting may not be the best environment for an individual child, and ‘alternative provision’ may better meet their needs. What the government and those who work in education are keen to cut down on is the abuse of the right to exclude. This is where the measure is used by head teachers when, for example:
- Exclusion is not a proportional response
- Other options aimed towards preventing exclusion have not been tried
- Exclusion is not for the benefit of the child, only for the school.
Clearly, when children are excluded to boost a school’s overall grades, rather than to protect other children and teachers from disruption or persistent poor behaviour, the right to exclude isn’t being used as it should. As Edward Timpson has written in his Review:
“Neither informal exclusion nor off-rolling are exclusion and they should not be conflated with schools following the proper exclusion process. They are quite simply wrong. And while no parent wants to see their child excluded from school, where a child is asked to leave, formal exclusion provides a process for review and, crucially, triggers duties that ensures a child is offered education elsewhere.”
How big an issue is exclusion for parents?
There are major impacts on parents when their child is excluded or off-rolled. They need to ensure their child continues to receive an education, either at home or in alternative provision. During the additional hours in which the child is in their care rather than a school’s, parents may need to seek new care arrangements, which risks putting pressure on their working life.
Most parents probably won’t be directly affected by the issue of exclusion, but because poor pupil behaviour has the potential to negatively impact on their child’s learning, and additional pressures will be felt if their child is excluded, it’s an issue that parents can have strong views about.
What does the Timpson Review say?
Timpson makes thirty recommendations, and seeks greater clarity from the Department for Education in guidance for schools on the practice of exclusion.
These are the ones most relevant to parents:
- A greater role for local authorities (LAs), where they can act as advocates for vulnerable children, and provide information to parents of excluded children.
- Department for Education (DfE) should provide "more accessible" guidance for parents of excluded children.
- Schools should provide DfE with more accurate data on pupil exclusions.
- Positive behaviour cultures in schools should be encouraged.
- Pupil moves should be systematically tracked by LAs and schools working together.
- Teacher training on pupil behaviour should be mandatory.
- Training and support available to SENCOs, governors and trustees should be reviewed.
- An improvement to the quality of alternative provision (AP).
- Schools should be responsible for the children they exclude, including for their educational outcomes.
- Ofsted should recognise schools using exclusion appropriately and effectively as part of their inspection criteria, and use an 'inadequate' judgement for schools who are found to off-roll pupils.
- A DfE Children in Need review should ensure parents are notified when a child in need is moved out of their school.
- Governing bodies and academy trusts should look for patterns in exclusions and identify any gaps in their provision.
- DfE should consider a new limit on the total number of days a pupil can be excluded for.
What will happen next?
Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who is in overall charge of the Department for Education, has already said that he in principle supports all thirty recommendations listed in the Timpson Review. Further consultations can be expected before any changes are put into place in schools.
Parentkind supports a central message of the Review, that creating safe and orderly environments in schools is very important. However, children having access to an education is a priority, and parents and schools need to collaborate to support children in every way possible. The Review says that, “Schools must be respectful and welcoming environments where every child has the opportunity to succeed.” Making schools welcoming, including when it comes to parents, is one of the hallmarks of our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools.