Our CEO, Fiona Spellman, responds to Edward Timpson’s review regarding school exclusions and the possible dilemmas of raising school’s accountability for excluding pupils. 

Among the many helpful recommendations from Edward Timpson’s review into school exclusions released today, perhaps the one that has received most attention is the idea of making schools accountable for the results of excluded pupils, even after they’ve been kicked out. Proponents suggest that that this will incentivise more head teachers to keep these students in their own schools, or to work more collaboratively with Alternative Providers to ensure that students continue to make progress academically. It would also help to end the gaming of the system where more challenging students are sometimes ‘off rolled’ without a formal exclusion showing up in the figures.

As with all other statistics in education, context matters. Schools with the highest exclusion rates disproportionately serve children from the most vulnerable backgrounds. For example, the Timpson Review finds that 78% of permanent exclusions are currently issued to children who have educational needs (SEN), or are eligible for free school meals.

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you that schools are in no need of extra accountability for students’ performance – indeed, it’s this kind of context blind accountability that drives some of the gaming behaviours which are contributing to exclusions. No teacher goes into the profession to exclude children. But we have to consider the unintended consequences of the accountability systems we are creating.

Making schools accountable for excluded children is in principle a good idea. But will those same schools be funded properly to meet the additional needs the children are presenting? Will they receive the training they need to more accurately diagnose, and then address the root causes of persistent poor behaviour? Or will this instead end up driving further pressure into a system that is already struggling to cope?

Changes to accountability that sound good in principle need to be tested out in practice before we can truly tell if they are in fact a force for good. Progress 8 is a particularly good example of a policy that tried to remove perverse incentives from the system and in fact ended up creating new ones.

If high stakes accountability is part of the problem driving exclusions I’m not sure that more of it is going to help.

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