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England: current policy

In England, pupils can be excluded on a temporary basis for periods totalling not more than 45 days per school year.

Permanent exclusion means the pupil will not return to the school, unless the exclusion is overturned.

The Department for Education’s statutory guidance on school exclusion makes clear that exclusions must be lawful, taking account of exclusions and domestic equalities legislation, and the European Convention on Human Rights. The must also be “rational; reasonable; fair; and proportionate”.0F[1] Pupils can only be excluded for disciplinary reasons.

Education for children who are permanently or temporarily excluded

In England, where a child of compulsory school age is temporarily excluded from a mainstream school for a period more than five consecutive days, the school’s governing board must arrange suitable, full-time education for the pupil, beginning from the sixth school day of exclusion.

Where a child of compulsory school age is permanently excluded, the duty to arrange suitable full-time education falls on the pupil’s home local authority. Again, this must begin no later than the sixth day following the permanent exclusion. Permanently excluded pupils may receive alternative provision – for example, at a pupil referral unit, or may find a place at a new school.

Later life outcomes

In his Government-commissioned review of school exclusion (published in 2019, see section 1.3, below), Edward Timpson noted associations between exclusion and poorer later-life outcomes. Among other things, the review found that exclusion was “a marker for being at higher risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime. 13 – 23% of young offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, in 2014, had been permanently excluded from school prior to their sentence date”.1F[2]

However, the review qualified this by noting that there was insufficient evidence to say exclusion caused crime, or to presume that preventing the use of exclusion would, “in itself, prevent crime”.2F[3] Nevertheless, it concluded that it was appropriate to “fully consider the form and content of the education a child receives following exclusion, in efforts to prevent and tackle serious violence.”3F[4]

Other bodies have similarly pointed to an association between crime and exclusion.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime published a report on school exclusion in October 2019.4F[5] Among other things, this called for changes to school accountability frameworks to ensure that schools are held accountable for the performance of all children, including those they exclude. Additionally, it advocated for all excluded children to have access to a suitable full-time education; and every local authority to have a leader responsible for excluded children.

The Children’s Commissioner for England published a report on gang violence and criminal exploitation in February 2019. On school exclusion, it argued that being excluded or off-rolled increased young people’s susceptibility to gang violence. It also stated that gang-associated children were five times more likely to have been permanently excluded in the previous academic year, and six times more likely to have been in alternative provision, compared to other children assessed by children’s services.5F[6] 

Timpson review

In March 2018 the Government established a review of school exclusions practice, led by the former Children’s Minister Edward Timpson.6F[7]

The review, as well as a Government response, was published in May 2019.7F[8] The review set out 30 recommendations for Government on exclusions, including measures relating to off-rolling. Some of the key recommendations were that:

  • The DfE should make schools responsible for the children they exclude and accountable for their educational outcomes, and consult on how to do this
  • The DfE should update its statutory guidance on exclusion to provide more clarity on the use of exclusion
  • Ofsted should recognise schools who use exclusion appropriately and effectively
  • Where Ofsted finds off-rolling, this should always be reflected in inspections reports and in all but exceptional cases should result in a judgement that the school’s leadership and management is inadequate
  • The DfE should ensure that accessible, meaningful and substantive training on behaviour is a mandatory part of initial teacher training and is embedded in the Early Career Framework
  • The DfE should look carefully at the timing and amounts of any adjustments to schools’ funding following exclusion, to make sure they neither act as an incentive for schools to permanently exclude, nor discourage a school from admitting a child who has been permanently excluded from elsewhere
  • The DfE should consult on options to address children with multiple exclusions being left without access to education, including considering a revised limit on the total number of days a pupil can be excluded for, or revisiting the requirements to arrange Alternative Provision in these periods
  • Pupil moves should be systematically tracked, to increase transparency on when children move out of schools, where they move to and why
  • In making changes that strengthen accountability around the use of exclusion, DfE should consider any possible unintended consequences and mitigate the risk that schools seek to remove children from their roll in other ways. This should include:
    • reviewing a ‘right to return’ period where children could return from home education to their previous school, and other approaches that will ensure that this decision is always made in the child’s best interests
    • considering new safeguards and scrutiny that mitigate the risk of schools avoiding admitting children where they do not have the grounds to do so.8F[9]

Government response

The Government responded positively to the review, and said that a consultation on how to make schools accountable for the outcomes of permanently excluded children would be opened in autumn 2019. The response also stated that the Government would rewrite its guidance on exclusions, and behaviour and discipline in schools by summer 2020.9F[10]

In June 2021, the Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, responded to a Parliamentary Question about the progress that had been made in implementing the recommendations of the Timpson Review:

[…] Since the publication of the Timpson Review and agreeing the recommendations in principle, the Government has been pursuing a programme of work on school behaviour across the school system. In April we commenced the Behaviour Hubs programme, investing £10 million that will help schools to develop and sustain a culture where good behaviour is the norm. Training is also being reformed as part of the Early Career Framework, so that all new teachers will be shown how to effectively manage behaviour in their first two years in the profession from September 2021. The Department will continue to work with Ofsted to tackle the practice of ‘off-rolling’ which is an unacceptable practice. Additionally, the Department will be consulting on how to help head teachers remove phones in schools, and other revisions to the Department’s behaviour and discipline and expulsions guidance, later in the year.

The Department intends to go further and is committed to improving outcomes for children and young people in alternative provision who are most at risk of expulsion and disengaging from education. The Department will set out its plans in the forthcoming SEND review.10F[11]

[1]   Department for Education, Exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England, September 2017, p8.

[2]   Timpson review of school exclusion, CP 92, 7 May 2019, p8

[3]   As above.

[4]   As above.

[5]   APPG on Knife Crime, Back to school? Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime, October 2019.

[6]   Children’s Commissioner for England, Keeping kids safe. Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation, February 2019, pps 7;18.

[7]   PQ 179103, 19 October 2018

[8]   Department for Education, Edward Timpson publishes landmark exclusions review, 7 May 2019

[9]   Department for Education, Timpson Review of School Exclusion, CP 92, May 2019. Full list of recommendations pages 12-15

[10] Department for Education, The Timpson Review of School Exclusion: Government Response, CP 95, May 2019, p5-6

[11] PQ 8678 [School Exclusions Review], 11 June 2021.

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