The long-awaited Timpson Review of School Exclusion was published last week. The review puts forth a number of worthwhile recommendations, including plans to hold schools accountable for the outcomes of children they exclude, greater local authority oversight of pupil movement, improvements to alternative provision (AP) and proposals to tackle off-rolling.
A key aim of the consultation was to identify effective approaches to improve outcomes, particularly for groups of pupils disproportionately likely to be excluded. While the review accurately identifies at-risk groups, it fails to make concrete commitments about how the government should implement the necessary changes. Arguably, the DfE could ensure that more vulnerable children receive the support they deserve by commissioning more AP free schools.
According to the report, an overwhelming 78% of secondary school pupils who were permanently excluded between 2014 and 2017 had been identified as having some type of special educational needs (SEN), as being in need (CIN), or eligible for free school meals (FSM). The report goes on to reveal that children eligible for FSM are approximately four times more likely to be excluded permanently or for a fixed period than those who aren’t.
Meanwhile, the likelihood of permanent exclusion is 150% greater for Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean children than their White British counterparts. The Timpson Review was partly commissioned in response to data published on the government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures website, which highlighted the extent to which exclusion rates differ by ethnicity. With this in mind, it is surprising that the review fails to mention the fact that children of Black and Mixed Caribbean descent are overrepresented in the percentage of pupils eligible for FSM.
Intersecting disadvantages can multiply a child’s risk of exclusion. Timpson gives the example of a Black Caribbean boy with moderate learning difficulties who is eligible for FSM. The 2012 review of school exclusion by the Children’s Commissioner demonstrated that a child fitting this description was 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school by the age of 16 than a White British girl without SEN who isn’t eligible for FSM. The Timpson Review shows that such disparity in school exclusion rates is still prevalent.
Amongst other factors, this could be the result of teachers’ unconscious misinterpretation of a child’s behavior, low expectations and “labeling” of children with certain characteristics, and failure to understand, identify and meet children’s needs. While it acknowledges this, the review fails to give clear guidance on how schools might tackle racial disparity in exclusion rates through equality and diversity training, BAME leadership and an inclusive curriculum.
While a series of positive recommendations have been put forth in the Timpson Review, no concrete commitments have been made to deliver change. Consultations are well and good, but this changes nothing for children experiencing permanent exclusion today, who are more likely to experience poor attainment, unregistered AP, unemployment, and involvement in criminal activity.
DfE data shows that 1.1% of all pupils educated in AP achieved 5 or more good GCSE and equivalent grades in 2015/16. This figure was 14% for Harmonize Academy pupils, and 55% achieved A*- G. These results are staggering, particularly when compared to AP results locally. Indeed, not a single pupil in AP settings in Liverpool or Knowsley achieved A*- G at the end of Key Stage 4 in 2014/15. Harmonize Academy is one of a number of AP free schools delivering on their promise to raise standards and give excluded and at-risk pupils the opportunity to thrive.
While it is wonderful that the DfE has approved 37 local authority bids to commission new special school provision, it’s a shame that only two AP schools have been commissioned as part of the joint special and AP wave. If the Government really is committed to improving outcomes for excluded pupils, it should be commissioning more AP free schools like Harmonize Academy, The Stephen Longfellow Academy and Derby Pride Academy. While frank and open discussion about inequalities in Britain’s education system is a step in the right direction, urgent action is needed to ensure that vulnerable children and young people receive the support they need to reach their full potential.