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Defend Digital Me Response to the Timpson Review

One of the key recommendations made in the report is on ensuring that a school still has accountability for pupils’ academic results after they are excluded, and for the government to update guidance. That is more about accountability of the system, than accountability to the child involved.

The question of accountability to a child, is not only about exam results, but their right to education. Attention therefore needs paid not only to children excluded into no education at all, as well as the process of pupil transfers out of mainstream schools, into and across the infrastructure of Alternative Provision, as well as so-called managed moves, and its oversight.

There is little external transparency of what can feel like an Alice-in-Wonderland system, and hard for families caught up in it to understand.

We recommend therefore that updated guidance requires funding flows and data transfers to be documented. The latter in line with the public sector data registry requirements of the Digital Economy Act Code of Practice. This is to improve meaningful accountability to children and families, build public trust in opaque systems, and to increase understanding of what is a complex and inconsistent set of system structures.

defenddigitalme believes more attention needs paid to:

  1. The reported contribution of the accountability system’s data model, in exclusions.
  2. The unintended consequences of the recommendations on shared Data Management, and Predictive Profiling.
  3. Real-time data sharing must take account of mistakes, historical corrections, and include routes of redress for wrongful intervention.
  4. Serious stigma: Data lasts a lifetime for the child and needs more care. Labels akin to criminal convictions have no specific rules around redaction and retention before distribution for life. This must change.
  5. Better and consistent communication, and involvement in transparent decisions with families.

A key fact to also remember in proportionate analysis, is that the Review shows 85% of all mainstream schools did not expel a single child in 2016/17, but 0.2% of schools expelled more than ten pupils in the same year.

1. The contribution of the accountability system to exclusions

While the 128-page report reflects the confusion of accountability for the child across the system, it fails to express how data not only reflects some of the problems of the system, but contributes to them. This is mentioned in the Literature Review. Some recommendations will create new data risks.

How the system would currently enable a school to be responsible for the final outcome results of any child that began their education with them, and was excluded, would embed the current flight-path prediction model of achievement. It uses pupil data at individual level, and underpins the SATS and progress-8 accountability system, using flawed, misleading measures.

The Timpson Literature Review included 2013 Report findings, that some head teachers felt the school accountability system including league tables and competition across schools contributed to the spike in exclusion rates.

(The Timpson Report, Literature Review, page 36)

Our own research into Local Authorities use of children’s data during the expansion of the Alternative Provision Census, found a mismatch in the flows across the AP system infrastructure of two things. Data and money.

In the Timpson Review, funding is only mentioned in the context of cuts and reduction of delivery capacity.

Among the challenges reported in the literature, Gill et al. (2017) suggests that a squeeze in public funding since the financial crisis has led to a reduction in preventative services and out-of-school support that could help prevent exclusion.

(Timpson Report, Literature Review, page 44.)

We recommend for updated guidance, that funding flow models and data distribution should be documented. Just as contrast dye is used for many medical procedures in the tracking the flows around the human body, cash flows should be mapped to identify failures of responsibility and accountability for children’s physical placement and education, rather than as a term for discussing the top-down surveillance model of teaching and focus on outcomes. Data transfers must be part of local public sector data registers, as required in the Digital Economy Act Code of Practice.

Managed moves and draws down on High Needs Block funding, passed money across the system to AP providers inconsistently, and often only in part. From £15,000, perhaps only £5K might reach the AP provider. We also received information that showed the government knows that funding may only offer £17,000 on average for an AP place, but it can cost up to £90,000.

2. Data Management, Risk and Predictive Profiling

Timpson Report Recommendation: DfE should set the expectation that schools and LAs work together and, in doing so, should clarify the powers of LAs to act as advocates for vulnerable children, working with mainstream, special and AP schools and other partners to support children with additional needs or who are at risk of leaving their school, by exclusion or otherwise. LAs should be enabled to facilitate and convene meaningful local forums that all schools are expected to attend, which meet regularly, share best practice and take responsibility for collecting and reviewing data on pupil needs and moves, and for planning and funding local AP provision, including early intervention for children at risk of exclusion.

(Timpson Review Recommendation, page 63)

We found this local meeting model is already common. However, we caution three areas to watch out:

  • mismatches between the system which has been dismantled over ten years, has removed the consistent Local Authority role, in the academies and MATs model [see p46].
  • predictive profiling brings its own problems and often should not routinely apply to children, as set out under Data Protection Law.
  • Virtual Heads told us of growing pressure on the use of panels to make decisions, results in children sitting in front of, no longer trusted and selected professionals they know, but a range of strangers discussing the young person’s sexual or abuse history. It is harmful to the child.

We caution against reliance on the idea that exclusion can be predicted and solved by pre-intervention. Academic research carried out in 36 schools across London, between 2013-16, found that interventions to reduce school exclusion and antisocial behaviour had marginally negative or no outcome.

Academic research (2016) : Anecdotal evidence from the EiE-L core workers indicated that in some instances schools informed students that they were enrolled on the intervention because they were the “worst kids”; this may not only hinder any engagement in intervention but also jeopardise the teachers’ relationships with the students and thus contributed to negative effects.

Obsuth, I., Sutherland, A., Cope, A. et al. J Youth Adolescence (2017) 46: 538.

Similarly, using such predictions in joined up service provision in children’s social care, can have devastating consequences and should not be used.

“Interventions sound attractive, but ethical debates about what level of intervention in family life, on what basis, and how pre-emptively, still need to take place. Such debates would be necessary with accurate predictions but become absolutely crucial when, as with any risk screening programme, false positives are unavoidable. In a given population where the base rate of abuse is low, these errors will be drastically higher than commonly believed.”

3. Real-time data sharing must take account of mistakes, and include routes of redress for wrongful intervention.

Timpson Report Recommendation: Real-time data on exclusion and other moves out of education should be routinely shared with Local Safeguarding Children Boards and their successors, Safeguarding Partners, so they can assess and address any safeguarding concerns such as involvement in crime. This should include information on exclusion by characteristic.

(Timpson Review, page 106)

We caution that new processes need thought out with safeguards and obligations of transparency reporting for any new data processing by Local Safeguarding Children Boards which are already reported to be unaccountable to families in their interactions with the Prevent programme, and with poor transparency as they are out of scope of Freedom of Information laws.

Real-time data sharing must first be transparent to the individual about whom information is to be shared. It must take account of mistakes, have paths for historical corrections, and include routes of redress for wrongful intervention. None of this exists transparently or consistently today.

4. Data and stigma last a lifetime for the child and needs change

The least discussed aspect of data in this Review, is the longevity and effects of such labels about SEND, exclusions and behaviours, at local and national levels (as shown in the axis of these charts from the report). Labels akin to criminal convictions are assigned to children during these processes, and there is no oversight or consistent checks for its handling.

“Children who do not have identified SEN in Year 7 are 10 times as likely to go on to receive a statement/EHCP by Year 11 if they have been excluded.” (Technical note, page 16)

The stigma mentioned on page 77 of the Report about the organisations, carries on into children’s lives. Children that have not been convicted of a crime, may still carry labels for life that are shared with an unlimited number of persons and organisations that say the child was excluded for drugs, sexual misconduct, abuse and violence.

Criminal convictions are withheld from distribution to third parties after a sensible time lapse under 1974 Offenders Rehabilitation Act. Yet for children, for whom such labels could have lifetime effects, there is no specific rules around redaction and retention. This must change.

Especially when we are told of extraordinary uses of such data by commercial third parties, and uses far beyond what families may expect.

5. Better communications with families

Our own research in 2018 found that parents were completely left out of Local Authorities decisions on assigning data to children in reasons for the move out of mainstream school into Alternative Provision, just as found in both the Children’s Commissioner 2013 and Timpson 2019 reports.

We welcome that further opportunities exist in the updates to Guidance, and in the Behaviour Review to include this key element in the management of the process. Children’s transfer out of mainstream schooling whether via permanent or temporary exclusion, managed moves, parental choice and Alternative Provision creates new data and data that moves with the child. Those data stay with them for life in national datasets. They need to know, who knows what about me. The UNCRC Articles 3 and 12 underpin this. Any decision in the best interests of the child, should involve them.



From a practical perspective the sector should ask how these 2019 Timpson recommendations, will be any more effective in delivering system improvement to meet children’s universal right to education.

The 2013 Children’s Commissioner’s report proposed much of the same things, and was also accepted by the government.

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