The Timpson Review - what next?
Now that the long anticipated Timpson Review of School Exclusion has been published, what happens next?
Since 2013/14 both the number of permanent and fixed term exclusions have been steadily rising. There has also been growing concern regarding the practice of ‘off rolling’. In response to this, the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised a review into exclusions. Edward Timpson, the former minister for children and families, was asked to conduct the review, the results of which were published on 7th May 2019 (Timpson Review of School Exclusion).
Of course, the review didn’t sit in isolation. Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s Chief Inspector has been ‘calling out’ for a while now the fact that a number of pupils are being excluded illegally and that OFSTED would aim to address this in the new inspection framework. In addition, there is currently a consultation into SEN Funding being carried out; many of the review’s recommendations will require funding to help put them into practice.
The rise in exclusions coincides with the introduction of the current SEND code of practice which, as we know, saw the ‘category’ of Behavioural, Social, Emotional Development (BESD) being replaced with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties, commonly referred to as SEMH. DfE statistics show that, from 2010 to 2013, the percentage of children and young people identified as having a BESD difficulty remained above 30% in secondary and above 15% in primary for those children at School Action Plus. In 2014, the percentage of children in secondary at SEN Support, that were identified as having an SEMH difficulty, was 20%. The latest figures show that this is now 19.6%. The percentages for primary aged children have remained at around 16%.
In a previous life, I remember having discussions with colleagues that the change in focus from behaviour to mental health, could lead to some children and young people identified as having ‘behaviour difficulties’ being taken off the SEN register.
Although it would be difficult to identify a causal link, it is worth asking whether some of those children and young people that are now being excluded who would previously have been identified with a BESD difficulty haven’t been identified with an SEMH difficulty. While not all ‘bad’ behaviour can be attributed to a mental health difficulty, we must remember that this category of need also includes the words ‘social’ and ‘emotional’. Any behaviour that is severe enough to warrant exclusion is surely indicative of a social or emotional difficulty!
It is encouraging that the review is cognisant of that fact that there are underlying reasons for bad behaviour. The tone used throughout is child and young person-centred and as such is focused on the impact that fixed term and permanent exclusions have on them. This is somewhat at odds with the review ‘Creating a Culture’ from 2017, which looks at behaviour in school (rather than underlying causes relating to young people) and very much focuses on the school as a whole, rather than the individual.
The Timpson review makes a series of 30 recommendations which include:
- Strengthening guidance for schools
- Strengthening training for mental health leads and SENCOs
- Ensuring that funding doesn’t act as an incentive or disincentive
- Making schools accountable for the educational outcomes of excluded pupils
- OFSTED should have regard to how schools are using exclusions
Beyond the review and its recommendations is the government response to them. It is this that will determine what happens regarding the review’s findings. The government says that it will accept all 30.
While this is obviously positive, many of the recommendations will require ongoing work rather than ‘quick fixes’. As such, in the current political climate, where a general election may well happen sooner rather than later, it is unclear to what extent the recommendations will be implemented.
That said, there are a number of recommendations that are already being addressed through projects that are currently in place. Regarding training for example, a group is reviewing the National Award for SEN Coordination course content and outcomes. There is also a SENCO Induction Pack, which although aimed at new SENCOs, will I am sure be useful for others too.
Beyond this however, there are some interesting points in the government response that are worthy of particular note.
For example, the response states that there will be a return to the use of ‘suspension’ instead of ‘fixed term exclusion’ and the somewhat aggressive sounding ‘expulsion’ to replace ‘permanent exclusion’. The rationale given behind this change is “to prevent confusion and conflation between the two terms”. I would question whether there is confusion. In addition, what impact would a name change have anyway?
The government has also announced a ‘£10 million pound scheme to help teachers crack down on bad behaviour in the classroom’. This will be led by Tom Bennett who conducted the Creating a Culture review mentioned above. As noted earlier, the language of this review and the one led by Timpson are at odds.
Another promise from government is that the SEND code of practice will be reviewed by summer 2020. This reference is hidden in the Annex of the review and it is unclear whether it refers to a review of the code as a whole or just those elements relating to behaviour and exclusions. In either case, the timescale is particularly ambitious especially if there are plans for a consultation as part of the review (which there ought to be).
Whatever happens with the recommendations from the Review, it is essential that collaboration between all professionals, parents and the young people themselves not only continues but is strengthened. This applies equally to collaboration within schools. Is there regular liaison between the pastoral team and the SEND team for example? Does this collaboration extend to teaching staff? Having such collaboration in place will help to avoid children ‘falling through the net’ and needs possibly being missed.
It is also essential that we hold to the principles and ethos of the code of practice e.g. early identification, person-centredness, as procedure alone is unlikely to result in the changes that are needed.
Michael has a background in primary education both in the UK and abroad and has worked as a class teacher, SENCo and Deputy Head. Since 2008 Michael worked for Birmingham Local Authority as part of the leadership team of a SEN advisory service developing schools’ provision for children and young people with SEN. Michael was seconded to nasen in August 2015 to work on the DfE funded project to develop a nationwide offer of free online CPD for all practitioners in sectors from 0 – 25.