The government has only implemented two of 27 recommendations from the Timpson review of school exclusion. Cath Murray offers suggestions for how it could improve its score

One of the Timpson review recommendations was quietly implemented over the summer. I like to think the change was made to pre-empt the findings of the online “Timpson tracker” we’ve been dropping hints about.

The tracker is now live, with researchers in the IntegratED partnership – a coalition of organisations working to reduce preventable school exclusions and improve alternative provision – having scoured government publications and found that just four of the 30 Timpson recommendations have been implemented fully, ten partially, and 16 not at all.

So just over ten per cent completion, right?

Not quite. Two of the four weren’t actually up to the government to implement. One was up to the Youth Endowment Fund and they’d decided to do it before Timpson was published. Another was that Ofsted should judge schools’ leadership ‘inadequate’ if they off-roll pupils, which they included in their new framework.

That leaves two implemented out of a possible 27 that the government have the power/responsibility to do something about. Both are data changes.

One was about publishing exclusions data for previously looked-after children, which they did for the first time in July 2019, revealing that the permanent exclusion rate is 1.8 per 1000 pupils, compared to 1.0 for the general population.

More children are dual-rolled in AP than permanently excluded each year

The other was slipped into the census specifications over the summer with no fanfare, but it’s a significant change. Schools will no longer be allowed to record ‘other’ as a reason for exclusion (the second most-common reason for five years). They will be able to choose from some new and more specific categories instead, including ‘use or threat of use of an offensive weapon’ (which previously fell under ‘verbal abuse/threatening behaviour’), ‘abuse against sexual orientation and gender identity’, ‘abuse relating to disability’, ‘inappropriate use of social media’, and ‘transgression of protective measures in place to protect public health’.

They may seem like small changes, but they are important; without good data we can’t even start to understand what’s happening. So here are a couple more that ministers could tick off with a stroke of the pen:

All moves out of school should be tracked. We’ve said this before. The DfE should publish ALL moves into AP alongside its annual exclusions data. When you do that, the overall figures more than double. Moves into home education should also be published.

The school census should record how much time children spend in AP. There are more children dual-rolled in AP than are permanently excluded each year, but we know nothing about them – how long they spend there, whether they ever return to mainstream, or their academic outcomes. I’d go further than Timpson – I think records should include ‘on-site AP’ too.

But rather than look at what’s easy to do, let’s consider what would have real impact.

For me, it has to be the ‘partnership working’ cluster (recommendations 2, 8, 9 and 13). Every government research report into exclusions and AP has concluded some variation on this: different systems are operating well (or badly) in different places, but the common feature of effective systems is collaborative multi-agency working, i.e. good communication between AP, mainstream and special schools, local authorities, police, health and social care.

Geoff Barton and Stephen Tierney, who respectively lead ASCL and the Headteachers’ Roundtable, bang on about exactly the same thing, albeit with more emotive language. Both talk about local leaders taking joint responsibility for the children in their area – seeing them as ‘our children’ rather than pinballs to be bounced around.

But partnership working will be less effective if alternative provision staff aren’t highly trained; or it’s cheaper to exclude than to support struggling children; or performance measures disincentivise schools to accept pupils through fair access panels. That’s why the Timpson report was so important: it identified various aspects of the system that need adjusting to create the right environment for local areas to take joint responsibility for their children.

So what can the government do? The answer is simple. Get ticking off those Timpson recommendations.