The Timpson Review is a timely and well-meaning attempt to address a small but significant issue; the pretence of school improvement, in a small number of schools and academy trusts, through cohort change, with a consequential negative impact on children and young people’s life chances.
Recommendation 14 reads, “DfE should make schools responsible for the children they exclude and accountable for their educational outcomes …”. The recommendation covers two critical areas that may well be affecting the current rise in permanent exclusions; funding and accountability. It fails to address the impact of austerity on the disappearing and disappeared local provision available to schools and the vulnerable young people themselves.
In the same way that we cannot sum up a school’s performance using a single word. Nor can we devise a single statistical measure that will adequately allow us to determine a school’s effectiveness. There will be plenty of naysayers, when and if the consultation proposed by Timpson ever comes to pass, about the inadequacy of any proposed changes to measures like Progress 8. Whilst I have some sympathy with their argument creating a slightly less imperfect measure is preferable to the status quo.
Here are some thoughts to start the debate.
We must move beyond Timpson’s recommendation that schools should be “responsible for the children they exclude”. Schools should be accountable for all the children they educate for as long as they educate them. This is essentially another call for proportionate accountability; echoing Education Datalab’s from 2015. At its simplest, a secondary school would be proportionately accountable for each year a child attends the school; 20% accountability per year. This begins to address the issue Timpson identified around off-rolling (to be defined) and the few schools with seemingly unethical behaviours would seek to find another loophole to exploit.
One concern that will need to be addressed; some schools, remember it is a very small number, may just look to move pupils on sooner rather than later. There are different approaches that could be taken; one suggestion would be to reweight the proportionate accountability measure so that a school would be held responsible for 40% of the GCSE outcome of pupils’ on its roll in the Year 7 October census, increasing by 20% each year. This would mean for a pupil who has been on a school’s roll from Year 7 all the way through to the October census in Year 10 the school would be held 100% accountable for the pupil’s final GCSE outcomes.
For the vast majority of pupils whose secondary education is at one school or who transfers from one school without any issues there would seem to be no problem. But how do we deal with accountability for pupils who are permanently excluded, move to elective home education (forced or otherwise) or who are part of a “managed move” (agreed or foisted on the host school)? Back in 2016, Headteachers Roundtable proposed the following in its Alternative Green Paper:
- For a pupil who leaves a school except at the normal leaving age, the time a pupil is at a school plus one year (up to the maximum length of time for that particular phase of schooling) if transferring to another mainstream school.
- Any time spent in alternative provision or elective home education would be included in the proportion allocated to the school the pupil left.
- For a school who takes in a pupil outside of the normal point of entry the weighting would be the time spent at the school minus one year (with the minimum time being zero).
This increases the likelihood that schools will love the ones they’ve got and use permanent exclusion as a final resort, as was always intended.
There is a need to align the funding and proportionate accountability metrics; the annual October census should be used for both purposes. The use of the Year 11 January census as the sole point of registration helps explain why there is a peak in pupils coming off schools’ rolls in Year 10 and the first term of Year 11; its use is historic and no longer appropriate. I’ve seen some arguments questioning why a school should remain accountable for a child who moves to Alternative Provision in Year 7; the figure is extremely low and of little statistical significance.
One of the challenges is knowing where all the pupils are who leave a school’s roll; some would need to be discounted from the tables. A brilliant analysis has been done by Education Datalab in its “Who’s Left” series. When speaking to the Headteachers Roundtable Core Group, Professor Becky Allen articulated the need for an annual Children’s Census. We need to know where all our children are whether they are in maintained, independent, private schools; elective home education; have emigrated or sadly died; or none of the above and worryingly on the streets. The October census would become a universal Children’s Census with a set key of key identifiers used to cross match against GP records. Long term this could significantly improve our safeguarding of the most vulnerable children and young people.
These changes or something similar don’t lead to a utopian measure just a slightly less imperfect one in a fundamentally flawed and increasingly dysfunctional accountability system.
This is a slightly fuller version of the piece featured in Schools Week (10th May 2019 Edition)