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Leadership

First Thoughts on the Timpson Review

The Timpson Review has been a long time in producing and almost as long being edited by the Department for Education.  Talk of proposals being “watered down” has come from a number of sources; that would be a real shame given the ambition and work of the group writing the report.

There are recommendations about clarifying, information sharing and more meetings; necessary and unnecessary bureaucracy rolled into one.  But will Timpson get to the root of the problem?

The report covers two critical areas that may well be affecting the current rise in permanent exclusions; funding and accountability.  It fails to address adequately the impact of austerity on the disappearing and disappeared local provision available to schools to help support vulnerable children and young people.

Timpson’s view that there is variability between schools is correct; some of this can be linked to philosophy, systems and processes.  Is it a “keep ‘em in” or a “kick ‘em out” school at heart?  However, the report’s assumption that all schools are the same, so like for like comparisons can be made, potentially undermines some of the thinking in producing the report and hence the recommendations.

Schools don’t evenly share the load of working with our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people.  Timpson reported, Disadvantage is strongly associated with exclusion, after controlling for other pupil characteristics. Children in receipt of Free School Meals were around 45% more likely to be excluded than other pupils.” St. Mary’s admits 23% of its pupils from the 1% of most deprived areas (LSOAs = Lower Level Super Output Areas) in England.  In a number of Blackpool secondary schools the figure is approaching 50%.  Most teachers, school leaders, inspectors, civil servants and ministers will simply not be able to comprehend this level of disadvantage and hence the immensity of this challenge.

The following data is for Blackpool’s Secondary Schools plus Education Diversity; only St. Mary’s is named (I’ll only identify other schools with their permission).  Acknowledgement: Data from Blackpool Local Authority

Looking at the exclusion and elective home education data for Blackpool, so far this academic year, there are 32 permanent exclusions and 63 pupils whose parents have opted for elective home education. This is from seven secondary schools (plus one that has just opened with Year 7 pupils) varying from: I permanent exclusion and 2 elective home educations at St. Mary’s to 9 permanent exclusions and 16 elective home educations at another local academy.  This between schools variation has been the standards pattern for a number of years now.  Timpson’s challenge that bringing forward proposals to deal with exclusions must not lead to other forms of behaviour that see pupils removed from a school’s roll is not lost on me; let’s take care with how we proceed.

The funding pledges and recommendations contained within the report are minimal and come up way short of anything like the figure schools have lost over the past decade or need; add in the lack of funding for local authorities and the report is many billion pounds short.  Intent is one thing; implementation will be inadequate.

By way of example, I remember the time St. Mary’s had an attached full time Youth Worker (remember them?); a Social Worker and a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO).  The first two went a decade or so ago and we have just determined that we can no longer afford to part fund the PCSO, at a cost of £10,000 per annum.  The later decision we regret but over the three years 2017-2020 St. Mary’s has been faced with a shortfall against its notional National Fair Funding Formula allocation of nearly three quarters of a million pounds.  If St. Mary’s was in Hackney, which has similar levels of deprivation to Blackpool, it would receive a staggering £2.8 million per annum extra (allowance for the extra cost of employing staff in London needs to be taken into account); that buys one hell of a lot of support.  It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

Whilst the Timpson Review was necessary it is not what is truly needed; Headteachers Roundtable in its 2016 Green Paper called for a “preferential option for those from disadvantaged backgrounds”; a cross government department ten year plan focussed on supporting our most deprived communities.  Sometimes to improve a school you have to address the issues of the whole community.  There’s still much to do if we are to support those schools and colleagues who are carrying the greatest load.

Linked Post: Accountability in a Post- Timpson World (to follow on Sunday)

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