I’ve been thinking a lot about the recently published Timpson Review of School Exclusion and its implications for two groups of people – governors/trustees (who have significant responsibilities when it comes to exclusions in schools) and the groups of children who are grossly over-represented in the statistics every year for children excluded from school for both fixed-terms and permanently.
Pleasingly the review makes a good recommendation to improve training for governors so that their roles in exclusions can be carried out confidently and, just as importantly so confidence in the system is secured, their role is not seen as a rubber-stamping exercise of a Headteacher’s decision. However, Timpson could and should have gone further by recommending that governing bodies take deliberate steps which I will lay out below to tackle the over-representation of those children with SEND, black Caribbean children, etc.
Strand & Fletcher (2014) carried out a comprehensive study of exclusions for a cohort of well over 500,000 children for their five years of secondary school life. They note that a sixth of all children in this cohort had at least one fixed-term exclusion during their secondary school life, and “that this rises to over 30% for Black Caribbean and Mixed White & Black Caribbean students. The probability of experiencing one or more FTE is strongly related to gender, ethnicity, poverty (as indicated by entitlement to a Free School Meal and by local neighbourhood deprivation), scores in national attainment tests (particularly English) at age 11 and early patterns of attendance in Year 7. The relationship between ethnicity and the odds of experiencing one or more FTE remains large and significant even after controlling for all these other variables.”
Equally disturbingly they found that “the numbers of permanent exclusions
relative to the number of FTEs for Bangladeshi, Caribbean and Other Black children are…markedly higher than those for White British students” and that “there are wide ranges in the numbers and durations of FTEs preceding a permanent exclusion. Nearly every ethnic minority group reaches a permanent exclusion on average after fewer FTEs than White British students and all but the Irish students reach a permanent exclusion having experienced FTEs of longer average duration than the White British students. These data are consistent with a degree of systemic discrimination.”
With a gradient on the playing field as steep as this it is my view that we should be taking significant positive steps to tackle this chronic problem.
The law as it currently stands on exclusion requires governing bodies to do the following:
- review a fixed-term exclusion at parents’ request if the cumulative number of days of fixed-term exclusion in one term for a child is over five days, but is less than 15;
- automatically review a fixed-term exclusion if the cumulative number of days of fixed-term exclusion in one term for a child is over 15 days;
- automatically review all incidents of permanent exclusion.
I suggest that governing bodies could adopt a policy of reviewing decisions earlier on for children with protected characteristics (as defined by the Equality Act (2010)*). For example, for children with protected characteristics governors could insist on:
- reviewing fixed-term exclusions at parents’ request for between three to five days cumulatively in one term;
- automatically review a fixed-term exclusion if the cumulative number of days of fixed-term exclusion in one term for a child is over five days.
Or, for schools that identified that they had significant problems in this area, they could do away with parental requests altogether and review all fixed-term exclusions over a certain threshold for children with protected characteristics.
This would place greater scrutiny on this group of children and strengthen parents’ rights. I do accept, though, that this increases the chances of those children being illegally excluded or greater use being made of isolation (aka internal exclusion) as its use does not have to formally recorded (please see below).
The use of isolation
Whilst Timpson is being digested the social media corner of our profession is also having a heated discussion on the use of isolation. This is a practise that is not currently regulated or covered by legislation beyond guidance that its use should be reasonable.
One problem that this raises is that there is no decent information on its use or effectiveness. I’m willing to bet, though, that the over-representation of those children above in the exclusions statistics is also likely to be the case in the use of isolation. Governing bodies can take the lead here by making bold policy choices. They should insist on detailed information in their reports from school leaders to allow them to understand how often it is being used and by whom. Governors should insist that parents are informed whenever a child is placed in isolation – I can find no convincing reason why a school should not do this anyway. (Arguments that this would mean informing parents if someone was sent to the Head of Department or similar to cool off are weak. I’m referring to those hard structures set up permanently to house students for periods or days at a time.)
Governing bodies should also adopt limits for review for the use of isolation just like those that currently exist for fixed-term exclusion. The governors could define those limits, or adopt the ones already in use for fixed-term exclusion, and should also lower the threshold for review for children with protected characteristics too.
In addition, governors should visit isolation areas on their visits, talk to the staff and children in there and report back to their board.
I believe that these policy decisions would make a very strong statement from a board of governors or trustees that they take their duties under the Equality Act (2010) very seriously, and that they are being proactive in reducing the chances of there being systemic prejudice in their organisation. Writing this in to their equality objectives would give this chronic problem the status it deserves.
If we don’t we’ll all be here next year bemoaning the fact that, once again, children with SEND and black Caribbean children are still many times more likely to be excluded than their peers and we’ll all exclaim that “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!”
Well, now’s your chance.
*The Equality Act (2010) states that it is illegal to discriminate against a person or people because of protected characteristics, defined as: age, disability (including special educational needs), gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.
Strand, S., Fletcher, J. (2014) A Quantitative Longitudinal Analysis of Exclusions from English Secondary Schools. Oxford: University of Oxford.