21% increase in calls to Contact’s helpline about exclusion of disabled children from school

3 mins read

Wednesday 15 November 2023

In the last 12 months there has been a 21% increase in calls to Contact’s helpline about exclusions of disabled children from schools. Of particular concern is that younger children with an additional need are facing exclusion – some aged just four and five.

Our Head of Policy Una Summerson was interviewed on Sky News about the situation and families also spoke out about the impact on their children.

Anna Bird, Chief Executive of disability charity Contact, said: “The impact of exclusion can be devastating on a disabled child. It makes them feel isolated and affects their confidence and attendance, as they don’t feel like they belong in the school environment. Parents are often unable to work.

Last resort

“Exclusion of a disabled child should only be used as a last resort. There is a legal requirement for schools to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children, such as providing a quiet space or teaching in a small group. We know that exclusions often happen due to lack of support.”

Disabled children have always been disproportionately affected by exclusions. But as schools struggle with budget cuts there is less access to specialists such as Speech and Language Therapists and Educational Psychologists. In addition there are fewer special school places and there are long waiting times for assessments. This has led to the situation getting worse.

There are lots of schools who do everything possible to avoid exclusion, ensuring children get assessed and using reasonable adjustments, such as providing a safe space or allowing the use of ear defenders.

Not following behaviour policy

But in some cases, schools aren’t following their own behaviour policy or government guidance. Some are excluding children illegally, asking a parent to collect their child at lunchtime because they are having a bad day or telling a child not to attend a particular activity.

It is feeding into the growing problem of persistent absence, as disabled children faced with seclusion and exclusion don’t feel they belong in the school environment. Absence rates for disabled pupils are significantly higher than their non-disabled peers.

Anna Bird added: “We’d like to see government invest more in SEN support in schools. There needs to be a strong focus on the specialist workforce and support is needed within schools to make disabled pupils feel welcome and included in the school environment.”

Is your child affected by exclusion or behaviour management at school?

We have lots of information and advice to help you.