Exclusion of Pupils

What is exclusion?

For disruptive or violent pupils, exclusion is a school's most powerful disciplinary tool. It is the most serious punishment available to head teachers to tackle unruly students and may be for a fixed period, a number of fixed periods, in extreme cases, permanent.

Decisions on exclusions from schools are solely a matter for head teachers, acting in line with the Department for Education guidelines and in accordance with the Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals)(Maintained Schools)(England) Regulations 2002, as amended, made under the 2002 Education Act.

The guidance makes it clear that the removal of a pupil from the school environment should be used only as a last resort in response to 'serious breaches' of a school's behaviour policy or to safeguard the welfare and education of other pupils.

As such, permanent exclusion is normally the final and most serious step taken in a schools' own disciplinary process. It may follow several fixed period exclusions (these cannot total more than 45 days in a school year) and other in-school measures, including separate teaching, consultation with parents, behaviour contracts or a "managed move" to another school.

In its guidance, the Education Department suggests that exclusion should be the first response to one-off cases of serious violent or threatening behaviour, sexual abuse or assault, supplying illegal substances and carrying an offensive weapon. Along with bullying, including racist and homophobic activity, the DCSF recommends that exclusion for such incidents should not be overturned.

If exclusion is to go ahead, a head teacher must inform parents or guardians of the period of exclusion, give reasons and inform parents that they have recourse to the school governors if they wish to have the decision reviewed. Most school governing bodies have a discipline committee to consider such reviews. They have the power to reinstate an excluded pupil after due deliberation.

The governor's decision to uphold an exclusion may be appealed to an independent panel established by the local education authority.

A pupil's education continues to be the responsibility of a school during all fixed periods of exclusion and until a permanent exclusion is finalised. After that, the excluded pupil's education is the responsibility of the Local Education Authority, which may choose either another school or a Pupil Referral Unit to fulfil this duty.

Although geared to pupils who have already been removed from a school environment, exclusions from Pupil Referral Units follow the same procedure as for any other school. The education of a pupil excluded permanently from such a Unit continues to be the responsibility of the LEA.


Exclusion has historically been the prerogative of individual schools and headmasters.

Since the late 1990s however the rights of excluded individuals have been highlighted and procedures amended to recognise and protect their interests more fully.

The current law on exclusions is governed by a complex combination of the Education Act 2002 and various Education Department regulations. The Education Department also issues detailed guidelines and offers training packs to schools outlining how the law should be interpreted and the procedure applied. Other legislation of relevance includes, the Sexual Discrimination Act 1976, Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are of importance to the issue of exclusion, schools being considered as public authorities for the purposes of section 6 HRA. The ECHR Art 6 right to a fair trial is potentially relevant to appeals and reviews.

Statutory Guidance on exclusions came into effect on 20 January 2003 and replaced Chapter 6 and Annex D of the DfES Circular 10/99. However, it did not apply to independent schools, City Technology Colleges, City Academies, or Sixth Form Colleges, which have separate exclusion procedures.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 created for the first time a clear statutory right for school staff to discipline pupils. It extends the scope of parenting orders and contracts and will improve provision for excluded pupils, with parents taking responsibility for excluded pupils in the first five days of their exclusion. Governing bodies and local authorities will be required to provide full-time alternative provision from the sixth day of an exclusion.

In September 2007 the DCSF published further revised guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units to reflect the implementation of the exclusions-related provisions of the 2006 Act.

In December 2011, the Government launched a consultation on revised statutory guidance and regulations for exclusions from schools and pupil referral units in England. The consultation will close in February 2012 and the Department for Education intends to publish the revised guidance in time for the new exclusion process to begin in September 2012.


Exclusions from schools are controversial primarily because of the difficulty of respecting the legal right to education of excluded pupils. A pupil who has been excluded is almost by definition likely to be seen by other schools as a potential source of trouble, and few are willing to take on "problem" pupils, even when they have facilities that were lacking in the original school. At the same time, places in Pupil Referral Units are in short supply, and even when they are available, the atmosphere may do more harm than good to some pupils. Alternatives available to LEAs include education in Further Education Colleges or home tuition, often for only a few hours per week.

Research by the Social Exclusion Unit has shown that while the majority of excluded pupils are white, male teenagers, children with special educational needs are six times more likely than the average to be excluded, children in care are ten times more likely to be excluded, and children of Afro-Caribbean origin are six times more likely. Exclusions are consistently higher in areas of economic deprivation.

Nevertheless, there are no universally common features to pupils who are excluded, and remedies must be tailored to the needs of individuals - something that many schools and LEAs lack either the resources or the will to do.

However, the reinstatement of disruptive pupils into schools they have been excluded from is perhaps the most controversial issue in this area. The problem arises principally from the structure of the appellate system that exists to allow individual pupils (and their parents) to challenge any exclusion order made against them.

The most extreme example of this problem came about in 2002, when two 15-year-old teenagers were expelled from Glyn Technology School in Epsom after allegedly making death threats to a teacher who had disciplined them.

An independent appeals panel overturned the school's decision, saying there had been errors in the expulsion procedure, and that the threats had not been serious. In response to the national outcry that followed (and threats of industrial action by Glyn School staff), the boys' parents decided to place them in alternative schools in the area.

At the other end of the spectrum are cases where schools have been excessively draconian in the enforcement of their rules. Media reports in the past ten years have focused on a boy expelled for having his head shaven in emulation of David Beckham, pupils wearing nose-studs, and pupils not using a subway to cross the road to reach a school. The mid-1990s saw alarming increases in the rates of exclusions amongst primary school pupils.

In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, David Cameron promised that a Conservative government would "change the rules" on school discipline and "put teachers back in charge of the classroom". The Coalition government has continued with that theme by introducing a number of measures designed to support schools in maintaining good behaviour.

The revised statutory guidelines on exclusions which are scheduled to be introduced in September 2012 reflect the new provisions as enacted by section 4 of the Education Act 2011. The Government has said the reforms are intended to "ensure a fair and effective system of exclusion which takes account of the impact that persistent or significant poor behaviour can have on the education or welfare of all members of the school."


The latest national statistics on Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions from Schools in England 2009/10 produced by the Department for Education were released on 28 July 2011 according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

The key points from the latest release are:

There was an estimated 5,740 permanent exclusions from primary, secondary and all special schools in 2009/10.
In 2009/10 there were 279,260 fixed period exclusions from state funded secondary schools, 37,210 fixed period exclusions from primary schools and 14,910 fixed period exclusions from special schools.
The average length of a fixed period exclusion in state funded secondary schools was 2.5 days, for primary schools the average length of a fixed period exclusion was 2.1 days.
The permanent exclusion rate for boys was approximately 4 times higher than that for girls. The fixed period exclusion rate for boys was almost 3 times higher than that for girls.
Pupils with SEN with statements are around 8 times more likely to be permanently excluded than those pupils with no SEN.
Children who are eligible for free school meals are around 4 times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion and 3 times more likely to receive a fixed period exclusion than children who are not eligible for free school meals.

Source: Department for Education - 2011


“Far from highlighting weak discipline, exclusion shows that schools are taking strong steps to tackle poor pupil behaviour……
 “Exclusion will be used more and more by schools as local authority behaviour support and pupil support services and early intervention strategies are savagely cut and school budgets are reduced as a result of the Coalition’s policy of public sector cuts."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, responding to comments by Schools Minister Nick Gibb that the pupil exclusion figures mean weak discipline remains a problem in schools – July 2011

"Exclusion is an issue that disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable pupils in society. In addition to pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities, this includes pupils receiving free school meals and pupils from certain ethnic groups…..
"The Government is committed to improving the quality of the provision that excluded pupils receive to ensure that exclusion from a school is not an exclusion from a good education."

Department for Education: 'A consultation on revised statutory guidance and regulations for exclusions from schools and pupil referral units in England': Summary report - 2011

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