Andrew Cutting, Specialist Exclusions & Alternative Provision Advice Coordinator, and Catriona Moore, Policy and Parliamentary Officer from the National Autistic Society examine the Government’s response to some of the recommendations from the Timpson review into school exclusions in England, and how these may impact on autistic pupils.
Authors: Andrew Cutting, Catriona Moore
Timpson review of school exclusions
In the space of seven years, the number of autistic pupils excluded from schools in England has more than doubled. In 2016-17, 4,840 autistic pupils received at least one fixed period exclusion; the most common reason given by headteachers was ‘physical assault against an adult’.
The former Children’s Minister Edward Timpson was asked by the Government to look at why some groups of children, such as children with special educational needs (SEN), are more likely to be excluded from school. His recently published report, the Timpson review of school exclusion, recognises that deciding to exclude is a difficult decision. On the one hand, a headteacher needs to ensure that schools are calm safe places for everybody, but on the other hand they must understand the damaging effects that exclusion can have on the excluded pupil, particularly in terms of their mental health and future life chances.
The review contains 30 recommendations covering issues such as schools becoming accountable for the pupils they exclude and clamping down on off-rolling.
The Government has agreed in principle to all 30 of the report’s recommendations. Here we look at some of the key recommendations and what they might mean in practice.
Lowering total days excluded (Recommendation 21)
The Government has stated that it will consider lowering the total maximum number of days that a pupil can be excluded for in one year, after public consultation.
The statutory guidance on exclusion currently states:
“Where a pupil has received multiple exclusions or is approaching the legal limit of 45 school days of fixed-period exclusion in an academic year, the head teacher should consider whether exclusion is providing an effective sanction.”
Our concern is that if the legal limit is lowered then headteachers might resort to permanent exclusion more quickly.
Accountability for permanently excluded children (Recommendation 14)
The Government has stated it will consult on how to make schools accountable for the outcomes of permanently excluded children.
Currently, from the sixth day of a permanent exclusion, it is the local authority’s responsibility to arrange suitable full-time education for the pupil. Reforms to alternative provision (AP) were first announced in 2016 in Educational Excellence Everywhere.
One concern about schools retaining responsibility for permanently excluded pupils is that it could lead to more ‘off-rolling’. This is the process by which pupils are made to leave their school and are removed from the school roll without a formal permanent exclusion, or by the school encouraging the parents to remove their child from the school, often done in the school’s interest and at their request.
Tackle ‘off-rolling’ (Recommendation 27)
The government has stated it will seek views on how to tackle the practice of ‘off-rolling’.
The use of unofficial and unlawful exclusion can lead to ‘off-rolling’. Schools have a responsibility to provide high quality education to every pupil and ensure there is no limit to their potential. Students enrolled at a school cannot be removed because of their academic ability. If it is felt that a student should be removed for disciplinary reasons, the correct exclusions procedure must be followed.
Off-rolling needs to be tackled, but if parents are not aware that what a school is doing is unlawful, then it may continue.
Update guidance on exclusion (Recommendation 1)
The Government has stated it will update guidance to provide more clarity on the use of exclusion, including revising the SEND Code of Practice before the end of 2020.
There is currently huge variation in the types of incidents that headteachers consider warrant an exclusion. There needs to be clarity about what schools’ obligations are under the Equality Act 2010 and to emphasise that exclusion should be a last resort, but if ‘clarity’ is taken to mean ‘uniformity’, then there is a risk that a one-size fits all approach is taken, without consideration of contributing factors and an individual’s needs. This in itself could lead to indirect disability discrimination. A landmark ruling in August 2018 by the Upper Tribunal made clear for the first time that schools must make sure they have made necessary reasonable adjustments to support autistic children, or those with other disabilities, before they can resort to exclusion.
The Government is going to work with sector experts to publish clearer, more consistent guidance by summer 2020. Tom Bennett, the Government’s Behaviour Advisor who will lead this work, previously conducted an independent review on behaviour in schools, Creating a Culture. In this review Bennett dismisses the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s conclusion in their Forgotten Children report that an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies contributes to a rise in exclusions and in pupils attending alternative provision. Given this, we have concerns that his review of guidance may play down the rights of disabled children under the Equality Act 2010.
Guidance on use of in-school units and ‘managed moves’ (Recommendation 7, 23)
The Government has stated it will produce guidance for the first time on the use of in-school units and ‘managed moves.’
The statutory guidance on exclusion states “… the threat of exclusion must never be used to influence parents to remove their child from the school” and Internal Exclusion Guidance from 2009 includes “Internal exclusion should not become a provision for long-term respite care; a dumping ground for pupils who may need specific support…” but more comprehensive guidance is to be welcomed.
Train designated senior leads for mental health (Recommendation 6)
The Government has stated it will support schools and colleges to train a Designated Senior Lead for Mental Health to enable whole school/college approaches to mental health and wellbeing.
Parents have told the National Autistic Society School Exclusions Service that exclusion has triggered a downward spiral of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings. Studies have shown that approximately 70% to 80% of autistic children (Lever & Geurts, 2016) and adults (Simonoff et al, 2008) experience mental health problems.
At a time of political uncertainty – a funding crisis in schools, uncertainty over the timing of the Government’s next spending review and with a general election likely in the near future – it is unclear how committed the Government will be to implementing the recommendations of the Timpson Review.
We feel Ed Timpson’s review is firmly embedded in a culture of inclusion. Whether the Government is committed to transforming the system of school exclusion remains to be seen.
Lever AG, Geurts HM. (2016) Psychiatric Cooccurring Symptoms and Disorders in Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46(6): 1916-30.
Simonoff E, Pickles A, Charman T, Chandler S, Loucas T, Baird G. (2008) Psychiatric disorders in children with autism spectrum disorders: prevalence, comorbidity, and associated factors in a population-derived sample. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 47(8): 921-9
Date added: 12 July 2019