Exclusions

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Exclusion is the formal sending home of a pupil from school for disciplinary reasons. An exclusion can be permanent or fixed-term (temporary, and sometimes referred to in government guidance as "suspension".) A pupil is not allowed in school while they are excluded.

The information on this page is for families in England only. 
Read information for families in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

In this article

What is exclusion?

Exclusion is the formal sending home of a pupil from school for disciplinary reasons. An exclusion can be permanent or fixed-term (temporary, and sometimes referred to in government guidance as “suspension”.) A pupil is not allowed in school while they are excluded.

The information on this page is about exclusions from state-funded schools and pupil referral units (PRUs). All PRUs and state-funded mainstream and special schools, including academies and free schools, must follow government statutory guidance on exclusions. Independent schools do not have to follow this guidance, and they will have their own exclusion procedures.

The guidance also applies to sixth forms in schools, but not to FE colleges, sixth-form colleges or 16-19 academies.

What exclusion isn’t

You should be aware that schools sometimes ask parents to keep children at home without having formally excluded them.

These incidents could be unlawful, and often schools do not properly document or report them. This can lead to children slipping under the radar and missing substantial periods of education without any scrutiny of the decision to keep them out of school.

Below are some examples of these kinds of incidents.

Sending children home unlawfully via an unofficial exclusion

It is unlawful to send a child home for a disciplinary reason without following the formal exclusions process, regardless of whether parents agree with the decision. Examples of unlawful unofficial exclusions are:

You might feel under pressure to agree to keeping your child at home in order to avoid an official exclusion on their record. But this can mean you lose the legal means of challenging the exclusion. A record of exclusions can also provide evidence that the school is unable to meet your child’s needs.

Part-time timetables

Schools can use temporary part-time timetables in particular circumstances. For example, a pupil might need gradual reintegration into school following absence, or they may not be well enough to attend school full-time.

But schools should not use part-time timetables as a way of managing a child’s behaviour.

Off-rolling

Schools should not put parents under pressure to take their child off the school roll in order to home educate or find an alternative place. This is known as off-rolling.

Schools can consider suggesting a voluntary managed move as an alternative to exclusion.

What you can do

If you think any of the above has occurred, you can put in a formal complaint through the school’s complaints procedure. It is also worth alerting the local authority exclusions officer.

When can schools exclude a child?

Schools must have a behaviour policy setting out the school rules and the consequences if pupils break them. This policy must include the circumstances in which schools might use exclusion. You should be able to find the policy on the school’s website. There is further guidance on Behaviour in Schools from the DfE.

Only the head teacher or an acting head can make the decision to exclude your child. And the exclusion must be for disciplinary reasons only; that is, something that’s against the school’s behaviour policy.

A school can temporarily 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.

The school can only permanently exclude:

Exclusions must be lawful, reasonable, fair and proportionate.

The following are not lawful reasons to exclude, either temporarily (suspension) or permanently:

Making the decision to exclude

There are certain things the head should consider before deciding to exclude your child. They should take account of your child’s views, and if relevant your child should be supported to express their views.

The head may also seek the views of others who witnessed or were involved in any incident leading to an exclusion. When determining whether your child is responsible for a particular incident, the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities. Is it more likely than not that your child did what they are accused of? This is not the same as the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.

The head should look at factors that may have had an impact on your child’s behaviour. These might be:

Additional steps for children with SEN or a disability

The head can exclude any pupil, including those with SEN or a disability. However, if disruptive behaviour is related to your 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 education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment; or arrange an emergency review of an EHC plan.

In some cases, excluding a pupil for behaviour related to their disability might 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 your child’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.

Schools should also take additional steps to avoid exclusion where possible for looked-after children and children who have a social worker. This might include discussion with parents, the social worker and, for looked-after children, the Virtual School Head.

Alternatives to exclusion

Schools must look at preventative measures to avoid exclusion when a child is at risk of one. Some of these are set out in the government guidance Behaviour in Schools. The school behaviour policy will also set out which sanctions the school will use when pupils break the rules. The point at which a child may ultimately be excluded varies from school to school.

Below are some alternatives schools should consider before or instead of exclusion.

Initial intervention

The school might carry out one-to-one or small group interventions to help pupils manage behaviour, such as:

In-school measures

Alternative measures that allow the child to remain in school are:

Off-site measures

Alternatively, the school may seek for the pupil to be educated elsewhere, either temporarily or permanently.

Offsite direction

This is where a child attends alternative provision for a temporary period to improve their behaviour. A school can impose this – parents do not have to agree – but certain safeguards should be in place:

Managed move

A managed move is when a child transfers to another mainstream school without being permanently excluded. This can be helpful when relationships have broken down and the best thing for the child is a new start in a different school.

Managed moves are voluntary, and all parties must agree to one. The school should not put you under pressure to agree to a managed move under threat of a permanent exclusion.

The school should share information about your child with the new school and an integration plan drawn up. Initially your child will be placed on a trial and dual registered. If the managed move doesn’t work out, they will return to the original school.

If your child has an EHC plan, ask for a review as the local authority will need to amend the EHC plan to name a new school.

What happens when the school excludes a child?

Informing parents and others

If the school excludes your child, it must let you know immediately. It must tell you the length of the exclusion and the reasons for it.

The school may initially tell you about the exclusion by telephone or in person, but it must follow this up with a written notification as soon as possible. The written notification can be by letter or in electronic form.

The exclusion letter must include the following information:

Schools must inform the local authority, in writing, of all exclusions of any length. If a child has a social worker they must be informed, as must the Virtual School Head in the case of a looked-after child.

Parents’ responsibilities

If your child is of compulsory school age (five-16) you must keep your child at home for the first five days of an exclusion. You must ensure they are not in a public place within school hours without good reason. You can be fined if your child is found out and about while excluded.

Education while excluded

For the first five days of an exclusion, the school should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for your child. This work should be accessible and achievable. It might be shared via an online platform, for example by downloading work the school has set or visiting an external resource.

From the sixth day of an exclusion, your child is entitled to full-time alternative education. The duty to arrange this lies with:

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. In some circumstances they can refuse pupils with challenging behaviour.

Looked-after children and children with a social worker should, if possible, receive full-time alternative education from day one of an exclusion

Going back to school

Schools should offer support to children returning to school following a fixed-term exclusion and draw up a reintegration plan.

The school might ask you to attend a reintegration meeting with your child. However, your child cannot be prevented from returning to school because you are unable or unwilling to attend the reintegration meeting.  

If you think that SEN or disability was a factor in your child’s exclusion, ask the school to look again at the support your child is getting.

Challenging exclusions

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.

Challenging a permanent exclusion

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.

Rights and responsibilities

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

5 days or fewer in total

5½ – 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. Parent can request it but governors do not 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 school can allow pupil   back  just to take the exam.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Read our information about education in Wales.

In Northern Ireland, find out about the system of support for children with special educational needs on the NI Education Authority website or Senac (special educational needs advice centre) or the Childen’s Law Centre.

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.

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