Off-rolled pupils could be given the right to return to their original school alongside a drive to cut permanent exclusions, following today's publication of the Timpson Review.
The long-awaited report into school exclusions, led by former Department for Education minister Edward Timpson, makes 30 recommendations, all of which the government said it would accept in principle.
However, unions warned that funding was not given “anywhere near enough weight” in the review, and a letter from education secretary Damian Hinds to Mr Timpson made no explicit promise of extra money for schools.
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As expected, the review’s recommendations include proposals to hold schools to account for the results of pupils they exclude, with the DfE set to launch a consultation on how to do this in the autumn.
It also includes a suggestion to reduce the current 45-day limit on the amount of time a pupil can be subject to fixed-period exclusions in a single academic year.
However, the report says “it is right that we fully supporthead teachers in using exclusion where this is appropriate”.
Mr Hinds said: "We would like to see the level of exclusions come down. It is lower than it was 10 years ago, but it is better if children are not being excluded."
An analysis carried out for the review found wide variations in the use of exclusions, including:
- 85 per cent of mainstream schools did not permanently exclude a single pupil in 2016-17, but 0.2 per cent permanently excluded more than 10 pupils;
- 78 per cent of permanent exclusions were issued to children who had SEND or were classified as in need or eligible for free school meals;
- Certain ethnic groups, including Bangladeshi and Indian pupils, have lower rates of exclusion than white British pupils, while black Caribbean and mixed white and black Caribbean pupils experienced higher rates.
Mr Timpson told Tes that the question of whether academies have been driving the increase in exclusions had been a “contentious issue”.
However, he said that a “hard, cold analysis” had found that “overall, there is not one group of schools that you can say has a significantly greater propensity to exclude than others”, although there were exceptions “on both sides of the equation”.
School exclusions and off-rolling
The report says growing public concerns about off-rolling were “reinforced by what this review has seen and heard”.
It adds: “There is a clear need for the government to do more to understand the scale of this problem and the impact it is having on those involved, but from the cases seen, it is apparent that there are some children who end up in unsuitable education or with no education at all, exposed to even greater risks.”
The report recommends that to mitigate that risk there should be a "right to return period where children could return from home education to their previous school".
Mr Timpson said he had seen situations where schools suggested to parents that they home-educate their child as an alternative to permanent exclusion.
He added: “There’s a question there about that period immediately after that has happened; we could question the circumstance in which that has taken place.
Mr Timpson said the “right to return period" would let the school, parents and local authority "reflect on whether that’s the best setting for that child”. He said the length of such a period should be the subject of a consultation.
The report also calls for money to improve alternative provision facilities and a new Practice Improvement Fund to help deliver interventions for children who need support.
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was "disappointed" that funding was not "given anywhere near enough weight" in the review.
He added: "The current level of funding is so desperately inadequate that many schools have had to cut back on support staff who provide early intervention to children with challenging behaviour.
"This makes it more difficult to prevent challenging behaviour escalating to the point of exclusion, and we believe this has fuelled the rise in the rate of exclusions in recent years.”