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The Timpson Review of School Exclusion, published on Monday, makes thirty recommendations about how the government might respond to rising school exclusions.

The RSA Pinball Kids project works to support vulnerable students at risk of exclusion to stay in – and thrive in – education.

Having explored this important and growing problem, we welcome many of the recommendations to try and better support children who are excluded from school and children from groups who are more likely to be excluded:

  • children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
  • children with speech, language and communication difficulties  
  • children from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • children who have received support from social care
  • children with a ‘Child in Need’ plan.

But we also call on the government to take into account how a high stakes accountability framework for schools has contributed to the rise in exclusions.

The RSA supports many of the recommendations of the Timpson Review

A Practice Improvement Fund

We welcome the recommendation for a ‘Practice Improvement Fund’, to encourage cross sector involvement in planning interventions for young people. Such a fund would unite efforts between mainstream schools, local authorities, and schools for excluded pupils (often referred to as alternative provision or AP).

It is also positive to see the recommendations for the £200 million Youth Endowment Fund, and the recently announced £10 million ‘behaviour network fund’ to be extended to schools.

Promoting the importance of alternative provision

The report suggests the Department for Education should promote the importance and the role of AP schools – many of which hold the knowledge and expertise to support mainstream schools with interventions for vulnerable students.

This recommendation effectively supports existing good practice. Many alternative provision schools already offer outreach work, supporting local schools to deliver emotional and behavioural support for children at risk of exclusion.

More training for governors and trustees

We also support the recommendation for more detailed training of the governors and trustees involved in the exclusion process. Further information on the content of this training, who will deliver it, and how it will be funded, is essential.

Safeguarding, notification, and linking local agencies

The review also calls for schools to be more accountable for the educational outcomes of excluded students. As part of the safeguarding of excluded students, the report emphasises the importance of parents and social care workers being notified when a Child in Need is removed from a school, and promotes the sharing of exclusion data with Local Safeguarding Boards (the organisations responsible for agreeing how various local agencies will work together to safeguard a child).

While it is important that these recommendations have been made, this is only the first step. We encourage further consultation and action to ensure that there is an infrastructure linking local agencies so that these recommendations can be met. 

The RSA Pinball Kids project will be exploring how local authorities can remove the barriers that currently prevent agencies and services joining up to support vulnerable children.  

The Timpson Review doesn’t fully address how pressure on schools influences the ‘off-rolling’ of students

However, there are also many questions left unanswered by the review. The effects of the current accountability regime on exclusions, while mentioned, are not fully explored.

While the review maintains that ‘off-rolling’ (when students are made to leave or removed from school without formal permanent exclusion) is unacceptable, and calls for schools to be held more accountable, it does not fully explore the reasons behind the ‘off-rolling’ of students.

Recent RSA research found a spike in exclusions in the first term of Year 11, ahead of the January school census that determines if the student’s results will count towards the school’s overall exam results. This is indicative of the pressure headteachers and teachers feel to achieve excellent exam results: “under the current system a poor set of exam results may sound the death knell for a headteacher’s career”.

The RSA believes that a high stakes accountability framework for schools, combined with a reduction in the capacity of key services for children, have contributed to a rise in exclusions.

It is vitally important to fully acknowledge this wider context when making recommendations for future practice – particularly when suggesting best practice for individual schools and headteachers. 

The context is also important for the recommendation that schools be ‘held accountable’ for the results of excluded pupils. This recommendation has been made before.

Creating that accountability in a way that is fair to both pupils and schools is challenging, and has been a barrier to implementing that recommendation in the past. The increase in exclusions over recent years highlighted by the review emphasises how important it is to take action now.

How we can take the Timpson Review forward to protect vulnerable children

The Timpson Review has provided a useful platform to begin thinking about what can be done to protect vulnerable students from exclusion, and to ensure all children thrive in education.

Now, we need the relevant funding, infrastructure and organisation to enable these recommendations to be delivered.

And throughout the process, we need to remain rooted in the real experiences of headteachers, teachers and students, as they navigate the wider contexts of accountability and high stakes testing.

It is only in doing so that we will be able to deliver real change for some of the UK’s most vulnerable students.

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