The publication of a long-awaited government review into exclusions and off-rolling has been delayed because of a behind-the-scenes struggle over proposals to curtail schools’ exclusion powers, Tes has learned.
Several sources who have seen drafts of the report said that Edward Timpson – the former Tory children’s minister leading the review – was minded to take an aggressive stance on limiting headteachers’ powers.
However, this had been resisted by education ministers, and such an idea will not feature in the final report, Tes has been told.
Background: Hinds orders review into school exclusions
Exclusive: DfE exclusions review to examine off-rolling
Read: DfE denies it will change heads’ powers of exclusion
However, the review will include a central recommendation that the accountability system should be changed so schools are held to account for the results of pupils they have excluded, Tes understands.
Crackdown on 'off-rolling' schools
Greater clarity over the circumstances in which heads should exclude, and improving alternative provision, are also likely to feature as recommendations.
The rise of off-rolling and knife crime as major political and media issues have only added to the weight of expectation surrounding the review, originally commissioned in March 2018 by education secretary Damian Hinds.
Publication is expected in the coming weeks, but was originally due at the start of 2019. In December Tes revealed that the review’s terms of reference had been extended to include “off-rolling” – the illegal practice of unofficially removing pupils from a school roll to boost performance statistics.
Now Tes has spoken to multiple sources who have seen draft versions of the report or spoken to Mr Timpson during the course of his review. They suggested delays have occurred because of internal haggling over the report.
Several sources said Mr Timpson had been inclined to take a hard line over the issue of whether heads should have the power to remove pupils from school rolls.
One source, who met with Mr Timpson during the review, said the rise of “off-rolling” on the public agenda had “really taken [Mr Timpson] by surprise”, and that the former minister appeared “almost viscerally concerned” about the issue.
The source said Mr Timpson appeared to be “moving toward” recommending a crackdown on exclusions, but suggested he had come under “pressure” not to from the Department for Education and Ofsted.
“We know that Damian Hinds is adamant that heads have to retain the power to permanently exclude… and we know that [chief inspector] Amanda Spielman strongly believes in that,” the source said.
The source also said the review had become “high stakes” because the issue of exclusions had been linked to rising knife crime.
Several sources who had seen drafts of the report told Tes that Mr Timpson had reached strong conclusions on exclusions, but these had been blunted by ministers. Tes was told that controlling heads’ power to exclude would not feature in the report’s recommendations.
But sources confirmed that a proposal to change accountability would be included in the report. This measure was included in a DfE White Paper published in 2016 when Nicky Morgan was education secretary, but later shelved.
One source told Tes: “There is a recommendation that schools should be accountable for all the students that they exclude in a way that tracks them for older students once they’ve left.”
This source said there would also be a recommendation that “there had to be more clarity for headteachers about the circumstances of exclusions”, and that the report would emphasise that “we need to look strongly at AP – what it involves, what’s good AP, and making sure that children end up in destinations that are educationally and morally appropriate for them”.
Several of the individuals whom Tes spoke to said that there had been intense politicking around the review, with the Home Office, in particular, trying to push for a more aggressive clampdown on exclusion powers.
One well-connected source told Tes: “I do know for sure that other ministers across government are putting a lot of pressure on DfE. I know [home secretary] Sajid [Javid] in particular, is pushing them to do something more.”
This source said the issue had “become inexplicably linked with the knife crime stuff now”.
As well as internal tension about the recommendations, Brexit uncertainty and Number 10’s constantly shifting “grid” for announcements are understood to have been behind the delays.
Tes approached the Department for Education and the Home Office for comment.