These recommendations were immediately accepted in principle by the government, but, since then, very little has been heard about what this implementation will look like in practice.
The Review was published last May and, of course, since then the UK has had another election, entered into a transition period to leave the European Union and gone into lockdown as Covid-19 brought in social distancing measures, including school closures. Given these events, it is hard not to wonder if the Timpson Review’s recommendations have disappeared off the government’s radar. Despite the challenges schools face as they prepare to re-open, now is the time to prioritise the changes suggested by the review.
Timpson was commissioned by the government to review how schools were using exclusion and why some groups of children are more likely to be excluded than others. An important part of the Review was to recognise that more needed to be done to equip schools with a positive behaviour culture and to equip teachers with the expertise needed to recognise and resolve behaviour problems at an early stage. These will surely be needed more urgently than ever as schools wait to hear a date that they can re-open and begin planning how they will help their pupils to adjust to ‘the new normal’. Children with existing mental health problems will undoubtedly have suffered as a result of the disruption and stress of Covid-19 while for others, the last few months will have meant additional pressures and a lack of routine that will adversely affect their mental wellbeing. There have been more than 30,000 Covid-19 deaths which will mean loss and grief in almost every community. It would be naïve to think that children’s behaviour won’t be affected by the last few months and that some could potentially end up facing exclusion as a result of experiencing a stressful and disruptive situation that they are simply not equipped to cope with.
In his report, Timpson found that 78 per cent of permanent exclusions issued were to pupils who either had special educational needs, were classified as a ‘child in need’ or were eligible for free school meals. A total of 11 per cent of permanent exclusions were to pupils who had all these characteristics.
In his review, Timpson said that “every child, regardless of their characteristics, needs or the type of school they attend, deserves a high-quality education” and that we need a school system that will “create the best possible conditions for every child to thrive and progress”. He called for more emphasis on behaviour management during teacher training and more funding to help schools to take a preventative approach to behaviour management. I did my teacher training in the late 2000s and we had one lecture on behaviour management and this was very theory-based. More time needs to be given to this vital area and a different approach needs to be taken in terms of recognising the advances that have been made in neuroscience and our understanding of why children behave as they do. I would like to see a focus on behaviour potentially in the second year of teaching with an emphasis on management in the classroom, not in theory, as well as looking at the role of SEN and the additional support these children need.
For those who argue that budgets are too tight and time pressures too great for this extra commitment from schools, I would argue that the exclusion process itself and Alternative Provision are even more expensive and time consuming to schools and wider society. It is more cost effective, and more socially worthwhile, to help educate children to learn about their emotions so that they develop resilience and the ability to use appropriate coping strategies. It is important to recognise that violent and aggressive behaviour is unacceptable. For a very small number of children, exclusion is the only way a school can respond to behaviour that puts the safety of others at risk. However, it’s something that should only ever be used as a last resort and certainly not because it is in the school’s best interests.
The latest exclusion data available to Timpson showed that an average of 40 children are permanently excluded every day with a further 2,000 excluded for a fixed period each day. Each of these children’s futures will be affected by exclusion. They will be more likely to engage in criminality and less likely to gain qualifications and progress to higher education. As the UK moves closer to exiting lockdown and, hopefully, getting back to normal, we need to make sure that the recommendations made by the Timpson Review are not forgotten. The latest exclusion figures are due to be released by the Department for Education in July. If we want to reverse the current trend, we need to maintain pressure on the government to implement Timpson’s 30 recommendations – otherwise, nothing will ever change and the distressed, angry children who are excluded will become distressed, angry adults.
Alistair Dewar is relationship manager at Thrive and a former primary school teacher