Children England responds to the Timpson review of school exclusions

It is clear from the Timpson review that school exclusion is an equality issue, with "exclusions… issued overwhelmingly to certain groups of children who already face significant challenges in their lives outside of school" including children with disabilities, Black Caribbean children and children in need of help from children’s services. While many schools do not exclude any children at all, a tiny number are using fixed and permanent exclusions to manage behaviour that clearly can, and should, be understood and supported within mainstream schooling if we are to have a fair and child-centred education system.  

So we welcome the review’s emphasis on exclusion being a last resort, and on staff being supported to recognise challenging behaviour as an expression of need from a child, with an important role for local authorities and other local services to work together with school staff to help children flourish inside, rather outside, the school community. We also welcome the recommendations intended to safeguard children as they make transitions in the education system, such as school moves being notified to a child’s social worker and the LSCB / safeguarding partners, and the establishment of a register of children not in school.   

In particular we welcome the review’s clarity that informal exclusions – 'off-rolling' - are "quite simply wrong" and that Ofsted, local authorities and school governors themselves must be alert to how a school is using formal and informal exclusions and not let any child be denied their right to a good quality education. It will be particularly important for Ofsted’s new inspection framework to recognise inclusive school policies, and discourage exclusive ones.

However; we are disappointed that the review praises examples of 'inclusion units' inside schools that are anything but – children put in isolation to manage their behaviour as a 'positive' alternative to excluding them. The review makes only a cursory acknowledgement that isolation can be detrimental to a child’s education, and none of the psychological impact it can have, particularly on already-vulnerable pupils.

We find the review's noble vision of schools as "places that are welcoming and respectful, where every child has the opportunity to succeed", and where each child's behaviour is recognised as a sign of their individual needs, inconsistent with its failure to condemn zero tolerance behaviour policies and its apparent permissiveness of punitive measures like isolation rooms. As the Department for Education takes on board the review’s recommendations, including clarification of guidance on school behaviour policies, we hope that it will base changes on the review's inclusive vision rather than its sometimes authoritarian approach to children's behaviour. 

It is also essential that, if local authorities and the many other professionals who make the school community truly inclusive of vulnerable children are to succeed in carrying out the review’s admirable intentions, central government fully and sustainably funds local health and social care, police services and schools themselves.

[Read the Timpson review itself]