It won’t come as much of a surprise to any teacher out there that Edward Timpson’s review into school exclusions, published this week, found that good behaviour cultures are vital in maintaining orderly school environments and that these environments support all children.
You will know better than anyone how the poor behaviour of one pupil disrupts other pupils in the class who are trying to learn. You will also know that persistent low-level bad behaviour costs you hours of teaching and young people hours of learning. But sometimes bad behaviour is not low-level – sometimes it is behaviour that leads to verbal or physical abuse of pupils or teachers.
Now, I want to be clear that this is far from the picture in every school. The majority of our schools are peaceful institutions where teachers and pupils can get on with the hard enough job of getting an education. But in those instances where the actions of a pupil go beyond what is acceptable, it is important that schools have the ability to teach that very important lesson in life – that actions have consequences.
This is why schools should have behaviour policies in place to set out the expectations of pupils and, in some situations, as a last resort, this will mean a permanent exclusion is the only option left, where these standards are not met. No headteacher I have ever met wants to expel a pupil from their school. It is only with a very heavy heart that a child is excluded, but I unequivocally back them in making this difficult decision when that is needed.
Consistency in school exclusions
After a year of looking at exclusions practice across the country and talking to hundreds of parents, teachers, leaders and others, the Timpson Review highlights that in the vast majority of cases, exclusions are used appropriately. However, the review also found that there was not only a difference in when exclusion was used, but also how effectively it was used.
I want every single child to get an excellent education. That holds true for those in mainstream settings and in alternative provision, those at risk of exclusion or who have been excluded. I do not want young people in limbo, not receiving any suitable education because of exclusion. This is especially important, as many of those that are expelled are the most vulnerable, and it’s a measure of our society how we support them to overcome their challenges and succeed.
The review found that the use of exclusions in practice is too variable, as behaviour that could result in an exclusion in one school would not result in an exclusion in another school. This means that a child’s experience of exclusion, the interventions and sanctions they face, as well as the support put in place for them, could differ greatly.
The review makes 30 recommendations to government – and I have accepted all of them in principle. Chief among them is making schools accountable for the pupils they exclude but doing this in an effective and fair way that doesn’t lead to unintended consequences. Far from imposing sanctions on schools, we want to help them in this transition. We will work with school leaders across the sector to design a consultation – including talking about funding and commissioning arrangements so that schools have the resources and know-how needed to take on responsibilities – which we will launch later this year.
We will also support schools more in the guidance that we produce and we will work with Tom Bennett to rewrite our guidance on exclusions and behaviour and discipline in schools to provide more certainty to teachers and leaders when making these difficult decisions. This will complement a programme we are putting in place to bring education leaders together in order to make sure safety nets are in place to support children at risk of being excluded as early as possible – as well as helping those who already have been.
We also share a responsibility to act when we see that certain groups are expelled more than others. That is why we are calling on education leaders to share data on the characteristics of excluded children. If we are unable to explain why certain groups are more likely to be removed from education, collectively we must respond to that.
I want heads to know that I back them to the hilt in creating a safe and orderly learning environment for both pupils and teachers. I know that this is not an easy balancing act to achieve. The Timpson Review is an important stage, and together I look forward to taking these recommendations forward to ensure that all children get the education they deserve.
Damian Hinds is the secretary of state for education