The Department for Education have confirmed a review of school exclusions – and Edward Timpson is back to lead it. Education Secretary Damian Hinds has stated that the review has come about due to higher exclusion rates in recent years but, as we know, permanent exclusions are only part of the story.
Timpson’s review will be falling short if it fails to recognise and address the rise of implicit exclusion - the subtle and not so subtle messages that your child isn’t welcome.
- “Your child has reached the threshold for permanent exclusion, wouldn’t it be best if you moved him, before we have to expel him?”
- “We don’t do dyslexia as well as that other school.”
- “We don’t have the support staff to cope with your child’s needs.”
- “We have a zero tolerance on disruptive behaviour.”
- “We focus on academic attainment”
- “It’s not mandatory but all our parents pay a donation every term”
- “All items of uniform have to be bought from our one chosen supplier”
- “No the SENCo doesn’t come to the open days – most parents don’t need that support”
I first wrote about this in April 2016 asking Is Inclusion Over? Of course, as is often the case, this ‘approved’ method of ‘school improvement’ will impact on the poorest, most vulnerable and those with disabilities and SEN. And there are serious questions about whether SEND reforms helped or hindered.
But while there may be eyebrows raised that the Minister responsible for these reforms is leading this Review I would point to his answer at the Whole School SEND conference a year ago.
I asked Timpson, when Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, about this issue and his response was “It is totally unacceptable for schools to make themselves less welcoming for SEND students in order to improve their stats.”
But it is clear he has a challenging task at hand. Recent reports that we have a long way to go:
- One in five teachers wrongly believe 'backdoor exclusions' are allowed, study finds
- Education secretary Damian Hinds warns that schools must curb expulsions, reported here
- And the most recent data from Department for Education
However, we are starting with a strong evidence base of the problem and some emerging solutions:
- LKMCo report: the alternative should not be inferior: What now for ‘pushed out’ learners?
- Education Datalab’s Who’s Left
- OFSTED concerns over unregistered schools
- Learning from Education Select Committee – a current inquiry on Alternative Provision
- Based on the work of Whole School SEND: the SEND review
- OFSTED’s specific concerns about misuse of exclusions in ‘the North’
- IPPR Report with The Difference that we helped secure funding for from The Inclusion Trust
- From Every Child Should: 5 questions for inclusion
- Practical advice from Ambitious About Autism: Exclusions
- NCB found that 49,187 children were reported as missing education in 2016/17.
- This seminal book from Jarlath O’Brien: Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow.
And Timpson must start by reading the last Review on this area. From the previous Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson Always Someone Else’s Problem. The recommendations still stand and given this - and the amount of evidence we have and the quality of analysis already undertaken – it has to be hoped that the Review will be more a move to swift action that another outline of the problem.
While the Review cannot ignore the very real context of the funding deficit in schools and other essential services such as CAMHS, youth work and SEND support; nor the impact of accountability measures on school choices we also cannot ignore that many schools manage an inclusive culture despite these pressures. Heads, MAT CEOs and governance structures set the tone. The Review has to consider the legal, policy and financial levers for change but it also has to take into account moral purpose, values and culture. Do we truly believe in an inclusive education?
I wonder when we will get to a point where every Head could honestly commit to this #drawnin pledge:
- I will never propose or encourage a child moving from a school unless it is in the evidenced best interest of the child.
- I will never advocate or action the moving of a child as a route to improving school results.
- I will not use any method to reduce the attractiveness of my school to particular groups of pupils.
- I will actively review our processes and messaging on a regular basis to ensure that we do not create a sense that some groups are not welcome in our school.
These things go beyond the law to a way of thinking, of working and of valuing difference.
We look forward to seeing the Review take shape and to working with the Review team on next steps.