Timpson Review of School Exclusion — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:57 pm on 16th September 2021.

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[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 3:01 pm, 16th September 2021

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking? This is line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the implementation of the recommendations of the Timpson Review of School Exclusion.

I am delighted to have secured the debate. This is the first time I have led a Westminster Hall debate and I am pleased it is on a topic that many hon. Members care about deeply. I am also delighted, and we are fortunate, that we have the opportunity to hear from my hon. Friend Edward Timpson who conducted the review for Government. This vital review of the use of school exclusion found that more needed to be done to ensure exclusions are used fairly and consistently, so that every child has access to the high-quality education they deserve.

As a former trustee of an alternative provision multi-academy trust and a chair of governors at a pupil referral unit, I have seen how high-quality education within alternative provision can turn young people’s lives around. Indeed, as an employer leading a business in the creative sector, I worked with AP schools to find career opportunities for young people who thought differently but had creative flair. However, often, because of either an underlying special educational need or challenges in their home life, they had not quite managed to fit into mainstream schooling. With that in mind, I established the all-party parliamentary group for school exclusions and alternative provision when I came to the House to look at ways in which we could reduce the number of preventable exclusions and promote best-quality education for pupils who are excluded.

I thank all those working in the sector, particularly over recent months during the pandemic, who, because of the children, stayed open all the way through. I pay particular tribute to two individuals who have helped me to understand the sector: Seamus Oates, London regional director for the Ormiston Academies Trust, and Karen Thomson, my first head when I became a governor at a school in Warrington.

Through the APPG, we have met many pupils and parents, as well as teachers and local authority inclusion needs experts, all of whom work day in, day out with pupils excluded from school. They continue to urge the Government to implement the important recommendations of the Timpson review. While some progress has been made in implementing those proposals, a lot more still needs to be made, so I am delighted the Minister is in Westminster Hall today to give a progress update.

Our collective determination should be to ensure that every child being educated in alternative provision obtains better outcomes than they would have achieved in a mainstream school. With better models of AP working effectively with the sector, as well as more funding, we will be a few steps closer to making that aim a reality.

Therefore, these recommendations have never been more important, as pupils return to school from a year of immense disruption. Even prior to the pandemic, we were starting to see a dangerous uptick in the number of permanent and fixed-term exclusions. I say again that the most vulnerable children—those known to social services and those with special educational needs—are most likely to disappear from school rolls, and I am afraid the pandemic has only further entrenched what is a barrage of disadvantage.

One of the most worrying conversations I had during the summer recess was with a mainstream headteacher at a school in Warrington who highlighted the number of children now appearing on the local authority’s at-risk register. Those children were becoming involved with county lines drugs gangs and entering the criminal justice system owing to schools being closed, and they are now at risk of permanent exclusion from their mainstream school.

The Government have rightly been concerned about the learning that pupils have lost over the last year. We should also be concerned that that disruption to learning might well reverse progress that the Government have made since 2011 in closing the attainment gap. However, a growing cohort of pupils are not returning to school, and consequently they cannot access the support in which the Government have rightly invested.

As schools reopened, we found that pupils were disengaging from school at a frightening pace. Nearly 100,000 pupils were severely absent last year, missing more than half their education through non-attendance. We also face an increase in mental health issues in our classroom, with the rate of children with probable mental health disorders rising from one child in nine in 2017 to one child in six in 2020. All those factors point to an increased need for upstream support, by which I mean that if we are to avoid permanent exclusions, we need to intervene earlier.

Teachers and parents—those who have been through the exclusion process with their children—as well as inclusion leads told us during sessions held by the APPG that we need to invest in a system that offers both high standards and high support for our most vulnerable learners, securing every pupil’s right to high-quality education. One of the first steps to achieving that would be recognising the importance of alternative provision in the education landscape and enshrining the role of giving support to pupils at risk of exclusion.

As was found by the review undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, the best AP across the country offers some of the greatest expertise in working with children who have challenging behaviours and additional needs. Those providers are seen not as a last-chance saloon, but as a place where life chances can be transformed. That is where we need to be with every alternative provision school in the country.

As the APPG has heard, the very best APs work along a continuum of support, offering outreach and advice to schools and pupils upstream to ensure that as many children as possible can stay in mainstream classes while accessing the support they need. They do not want children to go into AP; they want to support them in mainstream schools. That is what great AP schools are doing.

One brilliant example is the Pears Family School, an AP that not only supports pupils excluded from school but draws on its expertise as an AP with a reputation for exceptional parental engagement to build the capacity of mainstream teachers to support those learners in their classrooms. It does that by offering continuous professional development focused on parental engagement, supporting teachers with strategies to engage with parents. Its approach has been found to re-engage disaffected pupils, and it offers holistic support to vulnerable pupils and their families.

Although that is an admirable example of the potential of great AP, I am afraid that it is not yet the norm across the country. Far too many pupils can only to access the support of an AP if they have experienced a school exclusion; it is the last chance they get. As pupils return to school, we need to think about how we build this capacity to elevate the status of APs as respected experts in the education ecosystem.

We cannot, however, elevate the status of AP if we do not invest in it further. I am afraid it is unacceptable that schools for excluded pupils are often totally unsuitable buildings passed down by local authorities—schools that are no longer used for mainstream education. They have all the hallmarks of the last chance saloon. Before coming here, and more recently through the APPG, I have heard and, sadly, seen some horror stories about the buildings the schools are operating out of. I specifically recall visiting buildings on the Wirral when I was a governor in Warrington and seeing smashed windows, walls painted black, and furniture that was around 40 years old. That is not a suitable educational environment for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools.

Some alternative providers are offering education in neglected commercial premises and old converted houses that are simply unfit for purpose. Four in five respondents to the Centre for Social Justice’s AP capital survey said that the facilities in AP were simply not on a par with mainstream schools, and we have heard from parents who say that turning up to AP schools that look like dumping grounds, rather than schools, further raises anxiety about being placed in an AP, not just for parents but for children too. That only serves to reinforce the stigma and anxiety felt by pupils and their families following their AP referral. The review by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury suggested prioritising AP in any upcoming capital funding. Like many Members, I welcome the Government’s significant investment in improving the quality of the schools estate over the next 10 years, and I will take the opportunity to ask the Minister whether we can please prioritise these settings in the next round of capital funding, and invest significantly in expanding buildings and facilities for pupils who need AP.

I also ask the Minister for some clarity on when the special educational needs and disability review will be published. Although it is essential that the Government take the time to understand the scale and complexity of the changes needed, every delay extends the time in which those children and families are not getting the help they require. We also need some assurances that the SEND review will focus on AP reforms and how to create a system that enshrines APs as experts in the education landscape.

I am aware that the Government have made some progress in some areas, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments rightly recognise that many of the recommendations have been taken forward, but there are many on which we still need urgent action. As such, can the Minister tell us when she expects the AP workforce programme to be published, and what plans there are to establish a practice programme that embeds partnerships, allowing them to intervene earlier through the introduction of a practice improvement fund? Finally, can she tell us what steps have been taken to introduce more substantive training on behaviour issues into initial teacher training and the early career framework? I look forward to hearing her responses, and thank her in advance for addressing Members.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury 3:13 pm, 16th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, for what I think is the first time—I apologise if we have crossed swords in this place before. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place, as well as my near neighbour, my hon. Friend Andy Carter, who in the short time he has served in this place has already become a great champion for children who are at risk of school exclusion, highlighting the consequences of it. His chairmanship of the APPG is already reaping benefits for the profile of this important subject and the work and collaboration that are taking place on it, both inside and outside Parliament.

Despite my now being back in this place, the review I carried out was an independent review at the behest of the then Secretary of State, which was commissioned in March 2018 and published in May 2019. The last time we debated the review was on 2 March 2020: it was essentially an almost-one-year-on review of the review to check against progress. Of course, that was pre-pandemic, so we were still looking at the review through the lens of the world as it was then.

From memory, it was my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb who responded to that debate. I will take a moment to pay tribute to his incredibly long and fruitful service at the Department for Education as Minister for School Standards; I was there with him from 2012 until 2017, apart from a short period when he was allowed a breather. Many Members across the House recognise that he has shown a great deal of commitment, dedication and perseverance, to the benefit of many children in this country, and I wanted to put that on the record.

When we look at the response then and the position we are in now, we have to factor in that many children have had to endure a very different environment over the last 18 months. I want to explore how that may impact not only on the range of responses we have to the prevalence of school exclusion, but how it may bring about new opportunities to improve the way that we work more upstream, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said, to prevent as much disruption to education as possible.

Although exclusion will have a severe impact on any child, the analysis in my review showed that it affects only 0.1% of all children. However, that is 40 children a day. We need to make sure that we make the best of that situation for every child. Similarly, there are around 2,000 suspensions every day—I believe that is what they are being called; we used to call them fixed term exclusions—so there is a lot of disruption in the education system daily.

When I conducted my review, I understandably had to encompass a whole spectrum of different views and senses of what is right and wrong in the management of behaviour in schools. That was sometimes quite tricky territory. However, the consensus I found was that everyone understood the need for the headteacher to have some autonomy and discretion to use exclusion where appropriate, and very much as a last resort where nothing else will do, and that there have to be high standards in schools around values of respect and good behaviour. However, people also recognised that there are children who, for whatever reason—from what I called “in-school” or “out-of-school” factors in the review—find it difficult to meet that level of behaviour and interaction in school. That gets to the nub of how we need to respond and intervene earlier when we recognise that there may be a problem in that child’s life.

I remain of the view that exclusion is an important tool in the headteacher’s toolbox. We should not be looking for some artificial figure of how many exclusions there should be—what we need are the right reasons for exclusions and, as a consequence, the right number at the right time. However, that would be less of a concern if we knew that was true in every case: one finding of my review was that there was not always an appropriate use of exclusion. That is particularly worrying as we know that vulnerable pupils are most likely to fall foul of exclusion, as we have heard already, in particular those who have been diagnosed with special educational needs or come into contact with social care.

We look at the impact that exclusion has on their life prospects: on their educational attainment, their employment, the aggravation of mental health issues and the correlation with the criminal justice system. All the evidence is there. We know that we can do much more for these children and young people if we work at a more preventative level and ensure a greater continuum of support through some difficult times by involving all those who work with children, not only in schools, but in the agencies that support schools, including pupil referral units and those working in alternative provision.

We are looking at the overlaying of the pandemic and still trying to come to terms with how that will manifest in the longer term. We are already seeing reports of heightened anxiety for some children, with social disconnection problems that have been bottled up at home. That has led to some disengagement from education for those who were not able to get online every day and to get into each lesson when they were at home. All that has an impact on their ability to progress and reach their potential.

Although we do not have any data beyond the autumn of 2019—before the pandemic—Cheshire West and Chester Council, the authority in which my Eddisbury constituency falls, has published a report with Social Finance. The report shows a rising level of pupil absence and a rising use of exclusion by schools in the first term after lockdown restrictions ended last year, in an area that has a lower-than-average exclusion rate. That finding may not be the same across the country, but it is certainly an indicator that there may be some fallout and additional issues for children who have gone through that experience.

Indeed, the number of suspensions in the Chester West and Chester area went up from 62 to 93, and the proportion of children being suspended for the first time rose from 40% to 54%. That is just one snapshot in one part of the country, but that is why it is important that we look at the matter carefully and consider, as more data comes out, whether it is an aberration or a deeper problem caused by the disruption over the last 18 months.

Unfortunately, that could also point to the risk of rising persistent absence and exclusion. The children most at risk of slipping out of education—and not only those who live in poverty, but those who may have a social worker because life outside school is unsafe—are more prone to exclusion. On the face of it, covid makes the risk of exclusion more likely rather than less, but at the same time, the conclusions of my review, and its recommendations, still hold water. In fact, in many respects, it is even more important to implement them in a timely manner.

I know you are a great fan of googling the word “Timpson”, Mr Stringer, so I am sure that you are aware of the Timpson tracker, which is on the IntegratED website. When I first saw it, I thought it was something that would track me doing the marathon a few weeks later, which was clearly not the case—it would have been a very long viewing period if it had been. The tracker sets out the progress on the recommendations in my review, from those that are still in progress to those on which we have not made any progress at all. At this juncture I want to thank the Minister, because I have had a number of opportunities to engage with her on that progress since the last time we debated the matter in Parliament. We had a discussion with officials on 25 May, and that provided me with some reassurance that further work was going on, although because of the pandemic, it had perhaps been done differently from how we had anticipated. None the less, the will and the determination to make progress were clearly there. In the time I have left, I will refer to just some of the recommendations, to push them forward again and ask the Minister what progress has been made in the intervening period.

Recommendation 8 is to establish a practice improvement fund. I have highlighted that on a regular basis because, although I fully accept that there is a spending review to come and that sometimes funds have to be found within existing budgets—or even within slightly smaller existing budgets after a spending review—that part of the overall package of recommendations is crucial because it homes in on what we know from the evidence our review collected on what actually works on the ground and which tools professionals need to have a strong response to any difficulties children have at school, so that exclusions can be avoided.

The recommendation considers the transition points from primary to secondary school, and in-school units, as well as how many children have attachment and trauma issues. In that respect, I pray in aid the Attachment Research Community, which, along with the National Association of Virtual School Heads, has produced a call to action to help raise awareness of attachment and trauma needs in schools across England. The recommendation also looks at teaching, learning and emotional wellbeing in schools, and really aims to complement and extend some of the existing Department for Education guidance on supporting mental health in schools.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us more about the work on mental health in schools, particularly on having a trained lead in each school, and on how attachment and trauma could be fused into that work so that every school’s workforce has some basic knowledge of how attachment and trauma manifest, and how staff might be able to respond in a way that really helps to keep children on the right path.

There has also been interest in the behaviour hubs that have been announced by the Government. Twenty-two schools and trusts have signed up, including six that have a relationship with alternative and specialist provision, which is an important step forward. It would be good to hear from the Minister about how that is starting to have an influence on pushing out the good practice, and what steps will be taken in the future.

Recommendation 11 may, on the face of it, seem a synthetic recommendation compared with others, but I still see it as an important part of how we change the conversation around alternative provision, particularly pupil referral units. The recommendation deals with the stigma that is often attached to PRUs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said, they can seem like a dead-end place where pupils are put to be kept out of sight. We know there are PRUs all over the country that are not like that at all. We have seen some tremendously impressive examples where they are turning lives around, working directly in mainstream schools, and helping with the work they do. Renaming PRUs in a way that reflects their role both as schools—places of learning—and as places that support children to overcome barriers to engaging with education seems to be one way of making people view their role within the system more positively and constructively.

Recommendation 10 draws on the excellent opening speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, particularly about alternative provision and the need to have a strong workforce. We are starting, particularly post-lockdown, to hear some APs report difficulties with recruiting subject specialist teachers. There are shortages in many professions at the moment, but fortunately for APs, there is a route to quality within their workforce. Recently, I was lucky to be able to thank the founding cohort of the Difference Leadership programme, led by Kiran Gill, who graduated after their first two-year placement programme in good and outstanding APs. They are already having a profound impact on the ground. Within the first months of the course, leaders reported a 65% reduction in internal and external exclusions, and an 80% improvement in de-escalation incidents. That is not just a single improvement; for example, the Pendlebury Centre pupil referral unit works on the continuum of need that we have heard about, and very closely with the mainstream schools around it. This work is starting to see a real culture change in the way that schools and PRUs are working together to resolve problems as soon as they possibly can.

I want to touch upon the illegal practice of off-rolling, which is in my report. Off the back of my recommendation —I do not have the number to hand, it may be recommendation 26—the Education Committee were looking at how Ofsted might make sure that where they have found off-rolling during an inspection, they make that clear on the face of the inspection report. The consequences of that, in my judgement and review, should be that the leadership and management aspect of the school’s inspection be deemed inadequate in all but exceptional circumstances. That still has some time to cement itself within the inspection regime, but it is important that we call out the extremely sharp practice of off-rolling, which is ultimately illegal, and squeeze it out of the school system.

I am realistic. Having been Children’s Minister, I know that there are often principles that one agrees with and accepts, as is the case with the Government’s response to this review, but that is not always then ad idem with one’s ability to bring them into practice. There may be some need to nuance them and fashion them slightly differently as circumstances shift, and of course the pandemic is one such circumstance.

I am clear that the will is still there in Government, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says at the two-year—it is over two years now—review point to establish how much progress we have made. We know there is a lot of knowledge and understanding in the school system, and a commitment to do better and learn from the best, and many of my recommendations point to achieving that, as well as having a much more cohesive and transparent system where we can track children more easily, we do not lose them to the system, and we can respond more efficiently and effectively in providing the support they need to make the best of their education.

We have some fantastic schools all over this country and children who want to learn. We just need to make sure we do not leave any of them behind, and this review provides a great opportunity to do just that.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:30 pm, 16th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to speak in this important debate, and I thank Edward Timpson for his review, which I have studied at length. I concur with some of the recommendations and certainly with his speech today, but I think some of the recommendations need to go further.

What I have tried to do in preparation for today’s debate is to take a bigger view of what happens in the journey of a child and to look at how we can give a far better experience to that child. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for adoption and permanence, which this week published its report “Strengthening families”, and I thank the hon. Member for his part in that. I have also looked at children who experience extreme trauma and at the impact that has on then, and talked to parents, young people, agencies and schools in my constituency. Rather than looking just at the behaviour of a child, my conclusion is that a child does not reach the point where their school determines that exclusion is necessary, without first being on a trajectory that takes them to that place. Therefore, we have to look at the life course of a young person, identify early indicators and invest in the stability that that child needs to take them down a different path and to know they are secure, safe and have worth.

The work being doing in this place around 1,001 critical days is critical in ensuring we get the right foundations not only for the child, but for the whole family. Parenting is the most important role anyone plays in our society. Yet, the investment in parenting is scant. Of course, that starts before a child is born. We need to invest in the vital skills of a parent to build that security around the child. Also, as a state, we need to think about the instruments we need to put in place to help parents too. It is a difficult journey, but the more investment we put in, the greater the likelihood that we will see the fruits of that investment later on.

A child may have multiple challenges. They may be neurodiverse, have underlying heath conditions, have experienced trauma or not formed good attachments. At any point along the journey, the system, instead of pushing them away, must draw them close. That is perhaps why I do not fall in line with the hon. Member’s report—I believe that more needs to be done to draw children in rather than push them away. That is the experience of many of these children: they are pushed away from so many places, which escalates and spirals their lack of attachment and identity, and makes them so insecure.

Exclusion reinforces harm to many children and pushes them further into risk, as Andy Carter so ably said in opening the debate. It destroys the threads of security that a child may have and is ultimately costly both to the child and financially over a lifetime.

Children who experience adoption are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded, and five times more likely to be excluded for a fixed period. In fact, they are 16 times more likely to be suspended at key stage 1. Those children already have the challenge of processing their identity, security, trust and attachments. More often than not, they have layers of significant trauma, and are often excluded far earlier than other children. The trauma of exclusion builds on that trauma, and therefore does not achieve the outcome of security, which is why we have to make that early investment.

The all-party parliamentary group has looked at the value of the adoption support fund. We must ensure it is there at the right quantum to provide the services and support that are needed. If security and stability are wrapped around a child’s education, with continuous relationships, that can help build stability for them. The transition points, which hon. Members have referred to, can be very challenging and confusing for a child. It is therefore vital that we have relationships to bridge those transition points. A system in which everything changes in those relationships every year for a child can be very disruptive, so we need to look at continuums in a child’s life that can take them through their schooling.

If a child is taken to their safe place in a school—a place that is calming, caring and engaging and that invests in them—we will see different outcomes. It is therefore right that we build schools that have those spaces where children can go. As we have heard, and as we know from our constituencies, many children are experiencing real mental trauma at this time. Mental health challenges are starting in younger and younger children, and we are all experiencing from our constituencies children who are in a place of distress at such a young age. It is therefore important to create safe spaces that any child can go to when they are feeling insecure in class.

The challenge I want to set the Minister today is to create therapeutic schools. We should see schools not just as educational environments but as places that support the whole needs of a child. The rise in exclusion demands that. We need not isolation, but engagement; not exclusion, but inclusion. If an excluded child is pushed into rejection, they are pushed into further risk and harm. We have heard about county lines and people who prey on vulnerable children. They give children the rewards that they are seeking—not the right rewards, of course—and draw children into a different space that is unsafe for them. Ensuring that we have safe spaces is therefore absolutely crucial.

Children today are exposed to mental health challenges, trauma and harm—let us face it, none of us experienced this when we were younger—thanks to the scale and pace of social media and so many other things that they have to navigate their way through. We have to find a better space for our young people. As I have said many times in this place, many intergenerational challenges are replicated through children. We therefore need to break some of those cycles with a trauma-informed process. We must look at the child’s holistic needs—their home, their school environment—and understand them far better. If a child is not secure, they will not learn and attain, and inequality will grow. Therefore, that is absolutely crucial.

I have also said many times in this place that we need to look at what children are learning and the environment they are in. My sister, who works in early years with children with many challenges in their lives, last night pointed me to a YouTube clip by Prince EA, called “I Sued the School System”. I recommend it to all hon. Members; it is really worth six minutes of their time. I see hon. Members nodding—I do not know whether they have seen it. It talks about the way we need to develop a different kind of curriculum for children. Of course, it will be about inclusion. It will draw on children’s skills, and draw them into the system more and more. That is how we stop the rejection—the feeling of being pushed away—that so many children feel.

My city of York has a high standard of education and a high standard of caring for young people who are very challenged. It gives children an opportunity for a fresh start, so that if children find their school environment challenging, it will move them to a different school in the city. Many schools engage with that, so that children are kept within the school education system. Of course, alternative provision is also available for children. Within that, however, I note what is happening statistically. We saw a real drop in the number of permanently excluded children in the city—it is now about three or four children a year, which I would say is three or four children too many—but the number of suspensions and permanent exclusions has started going up. That was with the introduction of isolation units in schools, which are incredibly harmful for children.

Looking at the figures for 2018-19, 472 children in York were suspended for disruptive behaviour, 192 for threatening behaviour, and 123 for verbal behaviour. We must therefore find alternative solutions to keep those children in school, because many of them would have been pushed further into risk outside school. I also think that we have to take a safeguarding approach. I have raised this issue with the Minister in questions, and we are due to meet to discuss school-age children outside the school environment and the risks that they are exposed to. We therefore need to look at harm reduction in the school environment, where safeguarding is strong, but also outside. Of course, when children are suspended or excluded, they are outside that safe environment. We have to do a lot more on that.

In conclusion, I want to say to this to the Minister: let us draw children into safe places, and not push them away. Let us invest, not deprive a child of perhaps the only hope they have—the only safe place they go. I know that the Government have yet to get on this path, but the whole education system needs reform. With a refreshed Department, perhaps there is an opportunity to once again look at the curriculum, the environment and the purpose of education. Let us not escalate, but de-escalate, risk for these young people.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich 3:42 pm, 16th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my hon. Friend Andy Carter for securing this important and timely debate, and I thank my hon. Friend Edward Timpson for the work that he did on the review. I agree with the vast majority of the recommendations, and I think the Government should implement them fully at the next possible opportunity.

I could not agree more with the points made by Rachael Maskell about therapy and the importance of a therapeutic approach. I am very fortunate to be an associate governor at a special school for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs in my constituency. The school has only been going for just over a year, but it has done an absolutely fantastic job so far in supporting some of the most vulnerable young people in my constituency, who are slowly but surely turning their lives around—not long ago, many people had given up hope. They have got that hope back again because of the fantastic work going on at the school.

With regards to alternative provision and PRUs, I am in complete agreement with the points that have been made today. From the perspective of society, there should be nothing more noble and important than working in these institutions, which are often the last opportunity and the last hope that these young people have. They should not be places where people give up hope, both from a staff perspective and from the perspective of the people there. They should be good buildings—they should be our best buildings—and they should have our best teachers and our best educators. Frankly, the stakes could not be higher for society in terms of us getting it right at that point—often the last opportunity for us to make a positive intervention.

I also align myself strongly with the points made about the transition points between primary and secondary schools. It is often those with special educational needs who struggle with the transitions. Those transitions can be in relation to everything in life—transitions from education into the workplace, from primary school into secondary school, from A-levels into university. They will be made much harder by covid-19 and the destruction that that is introducing to education settings. I am talking about off-rolling, which I plan to come to later in my speech.

As the Minister knows, I am fortunate enough to sit on the Education Committee, and I have done so since I was elected to this place 20-odd months ago. I am a bit of a dead record when it comes to special educational needs. I always find a way of getting it in, at any sitting, whatever the subject, whether that is exam results, Ofsted or mental health. I always try to find a way of introducing the perspective of, and how it impacts, children with learning disabilities.

From the data provided, we know that those with special educational needs are very much at risk of being excluded. Some data I saw said. I think, that more than two out of five of those permanently excluded had special educational needs. The stakes could not be any higher when it comes to getting the provision right for those with special educational needs, so we need to get it right.

We have a number of remarkable people who are unconventional thinkers—creative thinkers—who do not think in the same way or process information in the same way. If we get the support right for those individuals, funding and organising it properly, so that it is not just about them treading water and being average achievers, they could be far from average achievers and be some of the most creative people in society. A lot of this is about not losing their talents to society. Yes, it is about them, their families and what is morally right, but it is also about not losing their talents, which is an incredibly important point to make.

There is a very fine line between a lot of those individuals getting the support that they need and flying, and not getting their needs met and turning against the system. Sadly, so often, they then end up in our criminal justice system, which we are seeing right now, as the Education Committee is conducting an inquiry into prison education. The fact is that more than 30% of those in prison have some kind of learning disability, although I think it is far higher than that. A lot of people, when they get into the criminal justice system, have their learning needs meeting, where they talk about the kind of support that they might get in prison. The Government have introduced some screening, but that is not the kind of intensive diagnosis that I would like. I would like each person who goes into prison to meet an educational psychologist to get diagnosed properly, so we have a clear picture of whether they have disabilities and, if they do, what kind of disabilities they have. Even at that late stage, we can hope to turn their lives around and to give them the educational support that they need.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Is it not right to have those diagnostic opportunities in schools? So many children in school, in particular the neurodiverse, wait years and years before they have a diagnosis.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point, which I was about to come on to. It is important that we get that intervention right, that we ensure that each person, when they go into prison, meets an educational psychologist for diagnosis, for two principal reasons.

First, yes, it is about the individuals and, even at that late stage, about hopefully being able to make positive interventions in the education provided. Secondly, I think we are a bit blind at the moment: we think that 30% of those in prison might have learning disabilities, but it might be as high as 50%. We just do not know, and we need to understand the scale of the problem. If it is 50%, not 30%, surely that just increases the argument for why the stakes are so high and why we need to fund special educational needs properly right from the start, as the hon. Member for York Central said—getting diagnosis as early as possible, putting the resources in and making these things possible. I could not agree more. I have dyslexia and dyspraxia. When I was 12, I had the reading and writing age of an eight-year-old, and it was only when I was diagnosed at 12 that I got the package of support that I needed to turn it around from an academic point of view. I could not agree with the hon. Lady more on that point.

The stakes could not be higher. I speak as somebody who has been in that situation where I am in a large class, my eyes glazed over, not understanding why I cannot process information in the same way other people do, sometimes feeling as though I am thicker than other people, sometimes feeling that there is something wrong with me. The teachers in the classroom do not always have as full an understanding about different types of learning disability as possible, so of course we go back to teacher training, and why it is so important that every person going through teacher training has that as a fundamental part of their training, so they can understand the different needs: that not all young people think and process in the same way, and that not thinking in a conventional way does not mean that you are thicker than anybody else. Sometimes it can actually mean that you are more creative, and I have said to a bunch of autistic kids in my constituency, “Weaponise your disability. You think differently; you can be creative.”

However, the impact of covid—the disruption we have seen to the education system over the last 20 months —may make this harder, and may increase the likelihood that some young people with learning disabilities get excluded. It comes back to that point about transitions. It has not been easy for any young person over the last 20 months, because of the disruption—not knowing how they are going to be assessed, not knowing whether they are going to be at school or not—but we know that people with learning disabilities particularly need certainty and structure, and they have not had that for the last 20 months. My concern is that that could impact behaviour; my concern is that the disruption over the last 20 months might have particularly impacted those with special educational needs, and we might see more risk that a lot of these individuals could be excluded.

I want to make a final point before I sit down. I do think that exclusion needs to be an option. It needs to be there; we need to balance trying to do the right thing for all children with the disruption that can be caused by disruptive pupils to other pupils in the classroom. It can absolutely have a detrimental impact on the education of an entire school, but of course, we need funding into alternative provision; we need to have no stigma; and we need to have a good number of special schools, which as I have seen—and, as an associate governor, continue to see—can literally transform the lives of many young people.

However, when we come to this point about off-rolling and the sense that this may be happening, perhaps subtly, a lot of it comes back to Ofsted and the way that we assess schools and the framework. Sadly, from the conversations I have had with a number of teachers, they often feel that there is a conflict between doing what they believe to be morally right, in terms of the education that they are part of providing and supporting the most vulnerable children, and actually—not unreasonably—wanting to be professionally successful. If there is the sense that there is a conflict there, we need to work to take it away, and there is a new Ofsted framework in place, but what are school assessments ultimately about? Surely, they are about the positive difference made. That should be the key thing: to what extent has a school made a positive difference to the lives of the children that it works with, acknowledging that not all schools have the same proportion of those with learning disabilities and those without, and not all schools operate in the same area and some pupils can have more challenging backgrounds? We should not be in a situation where a school can sometimes feel that it is punished for being good when it comes to providing for special educational needs. We have got to have an Ofsted framework that encourages and incentivises schools to put the extra effort into supporting those with learning disabilities.

I guess it has been a slightly sprawling speech, but my point is that my concern about exclusions is that there are too many occasions where sadly, those with learning disabilities are at risk of exclusion because their behaviour can be unconventional, and often when they are excluded and go somewhere else, that final chance for them—whether it is alternative provision or something else—is not as good as it should be. There is this bigger point about how high the stakes are. Exclusion should be an option: it should be something that we consider, but we have got to have an Ofsted framework that encourages first-class SEND provision. I know I have only spoken about special educational needs today, but as I warned you, Mr Stringer, I can be a bit of a broken record when it comes to that topic, and I make no apologies for it. Thank you very much.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 3:54 pm, 16th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) on securing this crucial debate.

School exclusions have a negative impact on children’s lives and educational outcomes, and therefore have a negative effect on their adult lives and outcomes. It takes a lot of support and determination for a person who has been excluded from school, often many times, to decide that they do not want to be a victim of their negative school experience for the rest of their life, and it often takes a huge effort to turn that around.

Excluding children has an impact on a child’s mental health; a recent study found that exclusion can lead to new-onset mental health conditions. Research also suggests that better access to mental health support for pupils who struggle at school could prevent future mental disorders and exclusion from school. I know the Minister is very aware of that.

I spent many years as a magistrate before coming to this place, and I have witnessed a correlation between previous school exclusions and involvement in the criminal justice system. Early intervention and prevention and supporting parents in their parenting skills to break the cycle is key. Investment is much needed here, as in the family hubs that I know the Minister supports fully.

The Ministry of Justice has found that 85% of young offenders received at least one fixed-term exclusion, and a study looking at the background of adult prisoners found that 63% of prisoners had experienced a fixed-term exclusion at school, and 42% were permanently excluded. Government statistics show that the number of permanent exclusions has increased in the UK.

It is worth noting that exclusion rates vary widely between schools. A 2019 study by England’s Children’s Commissioner found that 88% of exclusions take place in only 10% of schools. That means that most schools do not exclude children, but try to help them and keep them in school. In the autumn term of 2019, the only term of 2019-20 for which we have comparable data, there were 3,200 permanent exclusions, up by 5% from 2018-19, and 178,400 fixed-term exclusions, up by 14%.

The Timpson review, which I absolutely commend, found that some cohorts of pupils are more likely to be permanently excluded, such as those with special educational needs and disabilities. Many Members today have discussed that. My hon. Friend Tom Hunt is right that more than two in five of all permanently excluded pupils have some form of special educational need. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities have had a disproportionately high exclusion rate since records began. As a member of the APPG for SEND, I find that quite concerning.

Pupils supported by social care also have some of the highest chances of being excluded. Pupils with a child in need plan are around four times more likely to be permanently excluded compared with their peers; pupils with a child protection plan are 3.5 times more likely, and looked-after children 2.3 times more likely to be excluded. Pupils eligible for free school meals are four times more likely to be permanently excluded, and ethnicity also plays a role in school exclusions.

Many of our children who are persistently excluded are some of the most disadvantaged and often neglected children. We cannot allow these most vulnerable children to be overlooked by our education system. Giving every child the best start in life is a guiding principle of the Government’s approach to education here in England. We Conservatives believe that no matter the background of a child, the wealth of their parents, their race, their needs, their gender or sexual orientation, every child deserves a fantastic education or at the very least a suitable one, and the opportunity to build the foundations they need to thrive in the world of work and become functioning members of our communities. That must include those children who are failed by the system.

I pay tribute to Carole Dixon, chief executive of the Education Futures Trust, which supports vulnerable children, families and adults across Hastings, St Leonards and Rye by removing barriers, providing one-to-one support, developing their resilience and improving their life chances through education.

Many children have complex needs and struggle in mainstream school. Alternative provision must be considered a major part of a child’s education in those circumstances. It can provide for those children’s needs. Alternative provision should also be seen as an integral part of any local authority’s core offer. I am a member of the all-party group for school exclusions and alternative provision, and we have heard that alternative provision should be properly monitored and registered, and should focus on the child’s interests and needs, which help them build trust, confidence and resilience. I support the Timpson recommendations and commend them to the Minister, particularly those relevant to the upcoming SEND review.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:00 pm, 16th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Let me also pay tribute to the outgoing Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb. I have shadowed him since I took on this role and know him to be a decent, communicative and respectful opponent. I am grateful for that. Last night, I passed on my personal respects and gratitude to him, and I am happy to do so today on the record. He is also the Member of Parliament for the area I grew up and went to school in, which has been another great source of conversation between the two of us because I ended up going back to secondary school at the age of 25, so I had a lot to talk to him about.

I am grateful to Andy Carter. He, with Edward Timpson, not only triggered the debate and gave us the opportunity to have this conversation today, but set the tone in a thoughtful and wide-ranging way. For that, I think hon. Members across the House are grateful.

I will start my remarks in the way Sally-Ann Hart did, by paying tribute to the teaching profession and all those who support students in schools. As the hon. Lady pointed out, most schools successfully support students to make the right decisions on behaviour, learning and delivering outcomes that are successful for them, their families and our community. We should be entirely grateful for that. However, today’s debate focuses on the areas where we do not succeed, and we need to do much better overall.

Most teachers do a tremendous job. Despite the considerable challenges they face, they work tirelessly to deliver high-quality learning to all children, regardless of background. They face mounting workloads, coupled with cuts to real-terms budgets, and they have adapted to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. However, where teachers exclude too easily, honest conversations need to be had about why. They are working against a system with high incentives to exclude and too few incentives to include. Moreover, they face a Government who are reticent to address the vulnerabilities underlying exclusions, which their policies have sometimes fostered.

The impact of austerity fell directly on schools, but it also fell indirectly on young people. Cuts were made to children’s services and the wider network of partners designed to support children and to keep them healthy and safe. That has led to a rise in vulnerability. Between 2014 and 2018, the numbers of children being looked after, subject to child protection plans and becoming homeless or living in temporary accommodation, all increased. We know that vulnerability is a key driver of behaviour that leads to exclusions, so it is no wonder the rate of permanent and fixed exclusions rose dramatically over the same period.

Economic vulnerability is a key factor behind exclusions, but other characteristics matter too. According to analysis by the Centre for Social Justice, pupils eligible for free school meals are four times more likely to be permanently excluded than others and more than two in five of all permanently excluded pupils have some form of SEND, a matter particularly close to my heart. Concerningly, the rise in school exclusions shows no sign of ending and more and more pupils are getting stuck in a vicious cycle of exclusions, unsettling for them and unsettling for the school at large.

The historian and critic R.H. Tawney once said:

“What a wise parent would wish for their children, so the state must wish for all its children.”

I doubt that any parent would desire a system in which exclusion is used so readily, especially when we know the consequences of exclusion are so severe. They are felt in education, where only 7% of permanently excluded children receive GCSEs in maths and English. They are felt in work, where only 54% of pupils in alternative provision are in education, employment or training six months after leaving key stage 4. They are felt in the criminal justice system, with an NSPCC analysis of serious case reviews showing that 31% of serious violence victims had received a fixed-term exclusion.

Where no other options are available, exclusion should of course be open to schools, teachers and leaders. I have been involved in establishing two schools, both in areas of quite extreme deprivation. I became chair of governors of one of those schools at the very beginning. In the previous year, the predecessor school had permanently excluded 12 children. That was unacceptable to me. As chair of governors, at the beginning of the new school, I set the target of getting to zero in one year, while increasing student outcomes and attainment.

We managed to get it down to one. In that one case, the child had stabbed six other children with a hypodermic needle. In such circumstances, we cannot allow other students to feel so unsafe. The line cannot be crossed. In those circumstances, exclusion should of course be used, but with a very heavy heart.

We reduced permanent exclusions down to one. At the same time, in one year, we managed to achieve a 100% increase in children with five GCSEs including maths and English. The link between permanent exclusions and the use of exclusion and de facto increasing exam results is simply not there. By never writing off a young person and making sure that the right support is there at the right time, an atmosphere is created that sends a message to every student, whether they face challenges making the right choices in life or not, which ultimately fosters an environment that is conducive to learning for all students.

We must fix the underlying problems that drive problematic behaviour first. As schools balance the desire to keep children in schools with accountability for the performance of others, we must act to introduce sensible safeguards to prevent overuse, not least when—as I saw in my period as shadow Minister for youth justice—children are often excluded while being criminally exploited. That is utterly heartbreaking. Some are even trained by gangs in how to become excluded in the first place, to free up time for drug running and more.

A few years ago, with the serious violence epidemic reaching its peak, the Government seemed to recognise this. They commissioned the hon. Member for Eddisbury to lead a review into school exclusion, attempting to understand how the system could be sensibly rebalanced to allow more children to remain within mainstream provision.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that report, as the Opposition did at the time. We welcomed his findings and recommendations. The Government did too, “in principle”. Two years on, only six out of 30 of the recommendations have been implemented. Like the Lammy review, when it comes to tough action to tackle unfairness in public systems, the Government must do better to walk the walk. It is not just rhetoric—it means something.

The recommendations ignored by the Government to date include a practice improvement fund to disseminate best ideas on tackling exclusions across the country, and empowering local authorities to lead on partnership working, thus ensuring a truly joined-up approach between all parties involved in the process. Critically, that includes making schools accountable for the results of excluded children. That would ensure that pupils were never dismissed as a problem to be got rid of but were subject to proper tailored interventions that gave them the education that they so sorely need.

The Prime Minister took office on a platform of cracking down on crime, yet his Administration have shown no interest in cutting off the pipeline into crime or tackling child criminal exploitation. I am afraid that Conservative Members were even whipped to vote against my amendments to the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Without shutting off this pipeline, no amount of police action will succeed.

I close by asking the Minister the following questions. What is her rationale for failing to implement the remaining recommendations in the Timpson review? What plans does she have to evaluate the success of the exclusions process as part of the Department’s forthcoming review into the statutory guidance? Along with the hon. Member for Warrington South, I ask the Minister: when will the review into tackling racial and SEND disparities be published? Will she commit to making sure that new exclusions guidance provides specific protections for children subject to criminal exploitation?

There have been too many wasted opportunities. We need to act now to make sure that the school exclusion process is rigorous and fair. If we fail, it will not just be other people’s children who suffer; it will be us all.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

In calling the Minister, I ask her to leave a couple of minutes at the end for the Member who introduced the debate to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 4:11 pm, 16th September 2021

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) on securing this important debate. I apologise that I needed to step out for a couple of minutes earlier.

I also thank Peter Kyle and so many other Members for their kind and personal words about my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb. I saw how, as Minister of State for School Standards for so many years, he worked tirelessly to make sure that children all across our country had access to first-class education. He always put the most disadvantaged children first, and in the past 18 months I have learned a huge amount from him. I wish him the very best, and I join you all in sending him our thanks for everything that he has done for children.

The Timpson review was a very positive and comprehensive report that has influenced the Government’s approach to exclusions and behaviour. All children deserve the best start in life and, as the Timpson review states, every child has a right to

“a high-quality education that supports them to fulfil their potential.”

The review also recognises, however, the right of every headteacher

“to enable their staff to teach in a calm and safe school” environment. The Timpson review shone a really important spotlight on how certain cohorts of children were more likely to become excluded than others and how that can affect their outcomes. We are really grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury both for his work on this really important report and for acting as an advocate on this issue more widely.

We are taking forward the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. I would like to reassure all those listening today or following this debate that the Government are pursuing an ambitious programme of work to improve our understanding of behaviour and wellbeing, as well as putting in place additional support for children who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion.

That work is a combination of concrete actions that we have taken through the pandemic, the behaviour programme of the Department and the SEND review, which I have broadened to include reforms to alternative provision. My hon. Friend Tom Hunt spoke so passionately about special educational needs and disabilities. I reassure him and all those present that a key aim of the SEND review is to make it easier for children with special educational needs to access support in good time.

As we are all aware, children and young people have experienced substantial disruption in the past 18 months. Excluded children, and those at risk of exclusion, are some of the most vulnerable in the country, which is why it was so important that we not only kept schools open for vulnerable children, but kept our alternative provision open for all who attend such institutions.

We also provided AP with additional support. As part of our £3 billion education recovery package, we provided additional support of £1.7 billion for all schools, including AP. We also ran the really important AP transition fund, which provided targeted support to around 6,500 year 11s, to help them move on and remain engaged in post-16 education and training, including apprenticeships and FE courses. Last term, I visited an AP setting in Hyndburn, and I heard from the school that all bar one of the year 11s who had left in the summer term of 2020 were still in education, employment or training nearly a year later. The extra support for transition at the end of the summer of 2020 made a huge difference, which is why we are continuing it for that same cohort—the year 11s—into FE next year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we set up an AP stakeholder group, which brings together some of the best leaders of alternative provision in the country. They have helped to guide us on the best way to support vulnerable children through the pandemic and beyond. They are helping us to shape the AP reforms through the SEND review. In line with the recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury for a practice improvement fund, and as part of the AP reforms, we are looking to codify and boost the quality of AP, so that all children and young people can access the best in-class provision and all mainstream schools can draw on specialist support upstream, to get in the early intervention. That is part of the work that we are doing with our AP stakeholder group and will be bringing in through the SEND review.

We know that our engagement in education is a key protective factor against many harms. Vulnerable young people can be at risk of being drawn into crime or gangs, and they will benefit from specialist support if they can stay engaged with their education and out of harm. Therefore, we are not waiting for the SEND review before putting in more specialist support to help such children. We have recently launched two really exciting new projects, focusing on areas with serious violence hotspots.

From early next year, the DFE will be establishing 10 SAFE taskforces—SAFE stands for support, attend, fulfil and exceed. They will be led by mainstream schools in order to protect and re-engage children who are truanting, who are at risk of permanent exclusion or who are at risk of being involved in serious violence. That will include £30 million of new funding over three years and will enable additional support and interventions, to reduce the probability of such children and young people being excluded.

That will complement the pilot that we are doing in 21 alternative provision specialist taskforces, which is launching in November. It will draw specialists from across health, education, social care, youth services, youth justice and mental health, as well as family workers and speech and language workers. Where necessary, the pilot will enable the specialists to be co-located in the AP setting. That will help deliver targeted wraparound support to pupils in order to reduce truancy, improve rates of employment, education and training, reduce the NEET risk, and reduce the risk of involvement in serious violence. It will also improve mental health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South made a number of good points and spoke about the importance of capital. We are investing £300 million in this financial year to support local authorities to deliver new places and improve existing provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, or for those children who require alternative provision—almost four times as much as the Government provided to local authorities in the previous financial year. Spending for future years will be determined as part of the spending review.

Rachael Maskell spoke about the importance of really early support for families and parents when children are very young, and I so agree. That is why the Government have worked with my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom on her review of those 1,001 days—the very early years—and how to give children the best start in life. It is also why I and the Government are so committed to championing the family hub approach.

I come back to the issue of exclusion. We know that exclusion is an essential tool for headteachers to use when a serious incident has occurred, for example, or when there is persistent disruption. However, we are very clear that it should be used only as a very last resort. Longer-term trends show that the rate of permanent exclusions across all schools followed a downward trajectory from 2006-07, when the rate was 0.12%, until 2012-13. It then rose a little, but has remained stable since 2016-17. Permanent exclusions remain a rare event; there are roughly six exclusions for every 10,000 pupils. As expected, the number of exclusions decreased during the pandemic, but according to the data that we receive from schools, in the last summer term there were only 40 permanent exclusions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned off-rolling. Let me be very clear: off-rolling is unlawful and is never acceptable. Ofsted will hold schools to account for how they use exclusions, under its behaviour and attitudes judgments, and its new revised education inspection framework considers the rates, patterns and reasons for exclusions: differences between different pupils; whether any types of pupils are repeatedly excluded; and any evidence of off-rolling. The revised framework in 2019 strengthened the focus on this issue. Of course, Ofsted needed to stop its inspections for some time during the pandemic, but where inspectors find off-rolling it will always be addressed in the inspection report and, where appropriate, it could lead to a school’s leadership being judged inadequate.

One of the Timpson recommendations was to update the guidance on suspensions and permanent exclusions. We have committed to revising our statutory guidance on exclusions so that headteachers are able to have further clarity when using exclusions, and we will be consulting on this guidance and the non-statutory guidance on behaviour and discipline later this year.

The Timpson report also recommended that the Government reviewed the number of days that a pupil could be suspended from school. Currently, the number is 45 days in an academic year, although it is rare for children to reach that limit. In 2019-20, just 27 pupils received that type of temporary exclusion from schools in England for 45 days in a single academic year. However, the Government are considering these arrangements and we will update our plans in due course.

The Timpson review also recognised that certain groups of children with particular characteristics were more likely to be excluded, which includes pupils who were eligible for free school meals, pupils with a child in need plan, and pupils with black Caribbean or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds.

My hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart spoke about looked-after children and exclusions. However, there is good news. I am delighted to say that since we introduced the virtual school heads into local authorities, looked-after children now have some of the lowest rates of exclusion compared with their peers. The virtual school head role has been so successful that we are now expanding it so that virtual school heads can support all children who have a social worker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned the need to upstream support for children’s mental health and wellbeing, which is so important. We are putting considerable investment into mental health in the education system. The additional £79 million announced by the NHS in May will support the roll-out of mental health support teams to an estimated 3 million children and young people, which is around 35% of pupils in England, by 2023.

We are also progressing with the training of a mental health lead in every state-funded school and college in England. Our £9.5 million investment this year is expected to train up to 7,808 mental health leads this year. That training will include how to support children with attachment problems and trauma. Our new relationships, sex and health education curriculum also plays a part here; I am thinking especially of the mental health and wellbeing modules. We rolled those out, advanced the roll-out of those, early on in the pandemic—in the summer term of that school year—alongside extra training for staff.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

We know that there is a real shortage of clinicians with expertise in paediatric mental health. I wonder, with the work that the Minister is doing, whether she is talking to the Department of Health and Social Care about the need to really increase the number. What we find is that although teachers, as mental health leads, can provide certain support, they do not have the clinical skills and experience to supply the expertise needed.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Member for that very good point. It is true and it is one of the things that I have spoken about at length over the past year and a half with the former mental health Minister, my hon. Friend Ms Dorries, who is now Culture Secretary.

Improving the paediatric mental health support for children in the health service is also a very important part of the Government investment here. The mental health support teams, which wrap around our schools and can bring together different levels of support, depending on what the child needs, have also been extremely helpful in different areas. That is why it is so good to see those being rolled out. We do not expect teachers to be mental health experts, but we do think that training a mental health lead in every school can help them to identify the children who need more support, and to promote wellbeing, which is so important. Goodness—I saw so many children having a great time with their wellbeing over the summer during our holiday activities and food project.

We have also talked about children and young people with autism. The Government have updated the autism strategy over the summer. For the first time, that includes specific references to supporting children and young people.

We want to better understand the link between wellbeing and behaviour, so we are developing a pilot for a pupil survey to understand their perception of wellbeing and behaviour in mainstream secondary schools. Behaviour does matter. We know that behaviour can have an impact on teacher wellbeing and retention and on young people’s life chances. The Government recognise that we need to understand the drivers of behaviour and what the barriers to learning, engagement and attendance are, so we are pursuing a programme of work to do more to improve behaviour and discipline in schools, in recognition that good behaviour and strong discipline are key parts of school improvement. The behaviour hubs programme will mean that schools with exemplary behaviour cultures can work one on one with schools that need to turn around their approach to behaviour management. We expect that to help at least 500 schools over the next three years.

This goes alongside a golden thread of high-quality support, training and development that will run through the entirety of a teacher’s career. It begins in initial teacher training and goes through the implementation of the early career reforms for early career teachers and on to the introduction of new and reformed national professional qualifications for more experienced teachers and leaders. Also, in April, we announced plans to launch a national behaviour survey. That survey will provide a more accurate, timely and authoritative picture of behaviour across all schools. It will cover topics ranging from low-level disruption, to bullying. That will also help us to understand what more needs to be done.

I am really grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South and for Eddisbury for raising their concerns on this issue. I would like to assure them that, throughout the pandemic and going forward, the Government have had and will have a laser focus on supporting vulnerable children, targeting support at those at risk of exclusion and improving support for those who have been excluded. I know that the hon. Members will all be looking forward to receiving the SEND review and the AP reforms in the months ahead.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 4:29 pm, 16th September 2021

I thank the Minister for that very full response. I want to conclude by thanking my hon. Friend Edward Timpson, Rachael Maskell, my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and the Opposition Front Bencher, Peter Kyle, for their comments.

I will finish by saying that the reason we are talking about exclusion is that it impacts the life prospects of young children. That is the purpose of this debate—what we can do to influence that—and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the implementation of the recommendations of the Timpson Review of School Exclusion.

Sitting adjourned.