With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the publication of the Timpson review on school exclusions. Last March, the Government commissioned Edward Timpson to explore how headteachers use exclusion and why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others. The review and the Government’s response are published today and I have placed copies in the House Libraries. The Timpson review is thorough and extensive, and I want to thank Edward and all those he worked with during the review, including schools, local authorities, parents, carers and children.
Exclusion rates have risen over recent years, but they are lower than they were a decade ago, and permanent exclusion—expulsion—remains a rare event: 85% of all mainstream schools did not expel any children in the academic year 2016-17. Edward Timpson’s review found excellent practice across the school system but also variation across different schools, local authorities and groups of children. The Government agree with Edward Timpson’s conclusion that there is no “right” level of exclusion that we should aim for, but we need to examine why there are differences in exclusion rates for pupils with different characteristics and in different places.
I want teachers to be free to teach and pupils to be free to learn in a safe and ordered environment, so I absolutely support headteachers when they conclude that they need to suspend a pupil in response to poor behaviour or to expel them as a last resort. But it is vital that we support schools to give pupils at risk of exclusion the best chance to succeed, and ensure that, for those children who are permanently excluded, this is also the start of something new and positive.
I am clear that, where exclusion is the right decision to take and someone is excluded from a school, they must be excluded from a school and not from education itself. That especially matters because excluded children include some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged, with a third classed as children in need—that is, children known to social services.
Overall, when children from ethnic minorities are compared with white British children, there is no substantial difference in exclusion rates. The review found that children from some groups, such as black Caribbean children, are more likely to be excluded than white British children, while children from some other groups, such as Indian children, are less likely to be excluded.
The Government’s response to Timpson is based on four key commitments. First, we will always support headteachers to maintain a safe and orderly environment for pupils and staff. We will support schools to give pupils at risk of exclusion the best chance to succeed. We will make when and how it is appropriate for headteachers to remove children from their school much clearer and at the same time we will ensure sufficient oversight when they are. Finally, we will do more to support schools and alternative providers so that excluded pupils continue to receive a high-quality education.
To deliver that, the Government are today committing to the following actions. First, we will make schools accountable for the outcomes of permanently excluded children. We know that is complex and needs to be done in a way that is fair to schools and pupils, so we will work with education leaders over the summer to design a consultation to be launched in the autumn on how to deliver that in practice. As part of that consultation, we will also look at the implications of any changes to how alternative provision is commissioned and funded and at how we can mitigate the potential unintended consequences that Edward Timpson identified, including how to tackle the practice of so-called off-rolling. We will establish a practice programme to drive better partnership working between local authorities, schools, alternative provision and other partners, building on the excellent practice that Edward identified in his review. We will work with sector experts, led by the Department’s lead adviser on behaviour, Tom Bennett, to rewrite our guidance, including on exclusions, behaviour and discipline in schools, by summer next year.
We call on local authorities, governing bodies, academy trusts and local forums of schools to establish a shared understanding of the characteristics of children who leave schools by exclusion or otherwise. Our expectation is that that information will be used to inform improvements in practice and reduce disparities in the likelihood of exclusion between different groups of pupils.
We will work with Ofsted to define—that will give greater clarity for school leaders—and tackle the practice of off-rolling, where children are removed from school rolls without following formal exclusion procedures. That is often in ways that are in the interests of the school rather than the pupil. We believe the practice is relatively rare, but we are clear that, where it happens, it is unacceptable.
Finally, we will set out our plans for alternative provision this autumn, including more on how we will support alternative providers to attract and develop high-quality staff through a new alternative provision workforce programme and on how we will help commissioners and providers to identify and recognise good practice.
Before concluding, I want to address the issue of violent crime, in particular knife crime, which has tragically taken the lives of far too many of our young people. The issues surrounding serious violence, antisocial behaviour and absence and exclusion from school are complex, which is why we are working with the education and care sectors, the Home Office and other Departments as part of a comprehensive, multi-agency response. While exclusion is a marker for increased risk of being a victim or perpetrator of crime, we must be careful not to draw a simple causal link between exclusions and knife crime. There is no clear evidence to support that. I am clear, though, that engagement with and success in education are a protective factor for children. The measures outlined in our response to Timpson will play a key role in ensuring that every young person is safe and free to fulfil their potential away from violent crime.
I thank all colleagues on all sides of the House who have taken a close interest in this area. I mention in particular my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon and the other members of his Select Committee. I thank them for their work on this important issue, in particular their inquiry into alternative provision, which has helped to shape Government thinking. Most of all, I thank Edward Timpson and all those he worked with during the review. In taking forward our response, we, like him, will take a consultative and collaborative approach to learn from those who carry out such valuable and often challenging work in teaching, supporting and caring for excluded children and those at risk of exclusion. I commend this statement to the House.