The information on this page is for families in England only. I live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
What is exclusion?
Exclusion is the formal sending home of a pupil from school for disciplinary reasons. An exclusion can be fixed term (temporary) or permanent. A pupil is not allowed in school while they are excluded.
All state-funded mainstream and special schools, including academies and free schools, must follow government statutory guidance on exclusions. The information on this page is about exclusions from state-funded schools and pupil referral units. Independent schools do not have to follow this guidance, and they will have their own exclusion procedures.
Schools must have a behaviour policy setting out the school rules and the consequences if pupils break the rules, including the circumstances where exclusion might be used. In some situations, a pupil can be excluded for behaviour outside school. Exclusion may be for a series of incidents, often described as "persistent disruptive behaviour", or for more serious "one off" incidents.
Exclusions must be lawful, reasonable and fair.
Only the head teacher or an acting head can make the decision to exclude your child. The exclusion must be for disciplinary reasons only. For example, it is not lawful to exclude because the school cannot meet a pupil's special educational needs (SEN); for low academic attainment; for a parent's behaviour; or with an expectation that your child meets certain conditions before they are allowed back in school.
Before making the decision, the head teacher should consider the views of those involved. Where possible they should give your child a chance to present their case. The head can apply the balance of probabilities - is the pupil more likely than not to have done what they are accused of? Other factors should be considered, for example, is the incident a response to bullying? Are there family difficulties affecting a pupil's behaviour?
The head can exclude any pupil, even if they have SEN or a disability. However, if disruptive behaviour is related to a child's SEN or disability, the school should first take action to identify and address the underlying cause of the behaviour. For example, the school could increase SEN support or pastoral support; seek specialist advice from services, such as behaviour and educational psychology teams; request an EHC needs assessment; or arrange an emergency review of an EHC plan.
In some cases, excluding a pupil for behaviour related to their disability could be discriminatory. The school must be able to show that the exclusion is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim". This might be, for example, if a pupil's behaviour is having an impact on the education or safety of others. If the school cannot show that the exclusion is justified on these grounds, it could be a case of disability discrimination. Exclusion should be a last resort.
Under the Equality Act, schools must make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. For example, the school might change its behaviour policy so it doesn't treat disabled pupils in the same way as others by punishing with exclusion.
Alternatives to exclusion
The school's behaviour policy should set out alternatives to exclusion. Disciplinary measures will depend on the school, but may include:
- Being taught in a separate room within the school.
- A managed move to another school, either on a trial or permanent basis.
- Temporary attendance in another education centre to help improve behaviour.
You must be told without delay about the exclusion. The school would usually ring you first, but they must also write to you straight away. This can be sent by letter or electronically. The written information must include:
- The reason for the exclusion.
- The length of the exclusion - the number of days if fixed term, or that it is permanent.
- Information about how you can challenge the exclusion.
- The responsibility to make sure your child (if they are of compulsory school age) is not in a public place during school hours for the first five days of the exclusion.
- Arrangements for alternative provision, if relevant.
The school must always provide this information in writing if they are sending your child home for disciplinary reasons, even if the exclusion is very short. It is not lawful for the school to tell you to just take your child home, without recording it as a formal exclusion.
A school can exclude for a set number of days, up to a maximum of 45 days in a school year. A lunchtime exclusion counts as half a day.
When the exclusion has ended, your child must be allowed back to school. The head teacher cannot extend an exclusion, but they may issue a new fixed-term or permanent exclusion to begin straight after the first. This should only be done in exceptional circumstances, for example if new information has come to light.
The school should invite you and your child to a reintegration meeting on the day your child returns to school. However, your child must still be allowed in school even if you cannot attend a reintegration meeting.
Your child's education during fixed-term exclusion
During the first five days of an exclusion, the school should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for your child. For longer exclusions, the school must arrange suitable full-time alternative education to begin from the sixth day of the exclusion. This may be in a pupil referral unit (PRU).
For all exclusions, you can put your views in writing to the school governors. This is called "making representations". The governors have the power to decide whether the head teacher made the right decision. In some cases they can overturn the exclusion and reinstate your child.
See the table below for information about the governors' role in considering an exclusion.
A permanent exclusion should be issued only:
- In response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school behaviour policy
- Where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.
Your child's education during permanent exclusion
During the first five days of an exclusion, the school should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for your child. From the sixth day, the local authority must arrange suitable alternative education for your child. This may be in a pupil referral unit (PRU).
In the longer term, the local authority should find a place in another school for your child.
You can also apply to other schools. However, a school can refuse to accept a child if they have been permanently excluded twice already within the last two years, and in some circumstances they can refuse pupils with challenging behaviour.
If your child has an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan, an exclusion, or the threat of one, should trigger an emergency review of the plan. The local authority must make sure that any alternative provision is able to meet your child's special educational needs (SEN) as set out in the EHC plan.
The governors must meet within 15 school days to review the exclusion. You have the right to attend the meeting and to put your views to the governors. The governors must consider whether the head teacher's decision was lawful, reasonable and fair. They have the power to overturn the exclusion and allow your child back to school. They can also overturn the exclusion and reinstate your child in principle, even if you do not want your child to return to the school.
If the governors agree with the head teacher and uphold the decision, they must write to you to let you know. You have 15 school days from the date of the letter to ask for an Independent Review Panel (IRP) to consider the exclusion. The IRP hearing must take place within 15 school days of your request.
You can ask for a SEN expert to attend this hearing. The SEN expert's role is to inform the panel of how SEN may be relevant to the exclusion. The IRP panel cannot overturn the decision to exclude, but they can recommend or direct the governors to reconsider the decision.
The table below sets out your rights and the governors' responsibilities according to the length of an exclusion.
|Total number of days exclusion in one term||Five days or fewer||5 1/2 up to 15 days in total||More than 15 days in total or permanent||If pupil will miss a public exam|
|Right to make written representations||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Right to meet with governors||No. Parents can request it but parents don't have to agree.||Yes, if parents request it.||Yes. Governors must meet.||Yes. Governors must meet.|
|Timescale for meeting||None||50 school days||15 school days||15 school days|
|Reinstatement possible||No||Yes||Yes||Yes, or the school can allow the pupil back just to take the exam|
- Government guidance: Exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England.
- Falling through the net: our report into illegal exclusions and the experiences of families with disabled children in England and Wales.
Read our information about education in Wales.
In Scotland, the system of support for children with additional support needs is called additional support for learning. You can read more about it on the Enquire website.