6 reasons children are excluded from school – and what you can do about it

School exclusions explained for UK parents
Every year, thousands of pupils are excluded temporarily or permanently from primary schools. We look at the facts behind the figures.
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As kids, there was no greater threat than being ‘suspended’ or ‘expelled’ from school. And as parents, hearing that our child has been excluded is equally upsetting.

Sadly, it’s not an uncommon situation. The latest figures show that there were over 55,700 fixed term (short period) exclusions of primary school children in 2015/16, and 1,145 permanent exclusions.

Why are children being excluded from primary schools?

According to Government statistics, the top reasons for children to be excluded from primary school, either on a fixed term or permanent basis, are:

  • Persistent disruptive behaviour
  • Physical assault against an adult
  • Physical assault against a pupil
  • Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult
  • Verbal abuse of threatening behaviour against a pupil
  • Damage
  • Bullying

However, a new report by the IPPR has turned the spotlight on the reasons behind school exclusions. They’re proposing a new programme, called The Difference, that would see talented teachers recruited to work with vulnerable children for a two-year period, with the aim of changing their futures.

So what are the underlying reasons for children being excluded from school, and how can you help as a parent?

1. Mental health issues

Shockingly, half of all children who are excluded from school have a recognised mental health need. This can affect their behaviour; for example, a child with anxiety may be prone to angry outbursts in the classroom.

‘If this is impacting on other children’s learning, it might be seen as grounds for exclusion,’ says Danny Swift, a former teacher who worked on The Difference report.

What you can do: Help is available for children with mental health issues, although you may need to push for it. A visit to the GP should be your first step, to request a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Talking therapies are usually the first port of call for children with mental health problems, as medication is avoided in children and teenagers.

‘It’s also important to ask for clarity from the school on what your child is doing to be seen as unmanageable,’ says Danny.

‘You need to make it clear what’s going on from your child’s perspective.’

2. Special educational needs

Children with special educational needs (SEN) may have difficulties with the school environment, which can make their behaviour challenging

‘We fear that there are cases of schools excluding children rather than getting them the help they need,’ says Danny.

‘Sadly, this is often because they lack the time and resources to help them get a diagnosis, which would trigger funding and support.'

What you can do: All schools must have an SEN policy setting out how they will support children with additional needs. It should be available on their website, so familiarise yourself with what it says so you can challenge the school on areas where they’re not meeting your child’s needs.

‘I would advise parents to be proactive in requesting a proper assessment,’ Danny explains. This usually means working closely with the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO), and possibly involving the school nurse, your GP or a health visitor as well.

Depending on the scale of your child’s needs, it may also be worth considering whether they’d fare better at a special school. ‘It’s sad to see pupils being excluded rather than sent to a special school where they would thrive,’ adds Danny.

3. Social deprivation

Children who are excluded are four times as likely to come from disadvantaged families, or go to school in a deprived area.

‘We know that in wealthier families and schools, children are more likely to receive help and support, including a diagnosis of SEN, whereas in areas of poverty they may end up being excluded,’ Danny says.

What you can do: If you feel your child is being short-changed by their school and denied the support they need to avoid exclusion, you need to speak up.

‘If the school isn’t fulfilling its obligations towards your child, you should take it to the governors, who have a significant role in making sure they are accountable,’ Danny says.

Be aware, too, that other agencies may be able to support your child, such as social services and local or national charities.

Having someone to advocate for you and your child may help you communicate with their school and make sure their needs are met.

4. Personal problems

Whether it’s a divorce, bereavement or even a new sibling, sometimes upheaval at home can affect children’s behaviour, and lead to them being excluded from school.

What you can do: ‘Most parents will have had multiple meetings with the school before their child is excluded, and this is your chance to make it clear what’s going on from your child’s perspective,’ Danny advises.

‘It’s important to communicate what’s going on in the home environment.’

Schools have a duty to support children who are having a hard time. It’s part of the SENCO’s remit to help children who need some short-term support, and they may also be able to arrange for them to see a school counsellor.

There are also various charities that could help your child process their feelings around a traumatic event, such as Childline.

5. Previous exclusions or poor behaviour

Parents whose child has been excluded before may find that the school has a lower threshold for future exclusions.

‘I think we teachers have to admit that children can become labelled as badly behaved, and given less chance to redeem themselves,’ says Danny. 

What you can do: Check out the school’s behaviour policy (on their website), which should set out their different levels of discipline and sanctions. This will help you establish whether the correct procedures are being followed with your child.

Make sure you go to any meetings the school requests, as this will show your cooperation. You might want to consider taking an advocate with you, whether that’s a friend, family member or a professional such as a social worker who’s involved with your child.

In extreme circumstances, you may want to consider whether they’d benefit from changing school.

‘Moving school can be a fresh start and a chance for your child to get away from their previous labels,’ Danny explains.

‘Sometimes schools will even suggest a “managed move,” where they agree with another school to transfer a child, without officially permanently excluding them,’ says Danny. ‘This can help break the cycle of bad behaviour and exclusion.

'However, it’s vital that it isn't used by schools as a way of simply “getting rid” of a child who poses challenges, rather than supporting them through those challenges in school.'

6. Poor educational prospects

‘We fear that schools may be more likely to exclude children who are expected to perform badly in exams, as a way of artificially boosting their position in league tables,’ says Danny.

‘Children may also be excluded if they’re disrupting the class, so they don’t compromise the learning of others.’

What you can do: ‘In some cases, it's appropriate to remove a child from class, but no child should be excluded because they’re not performing academically,’ says Danny.

In this situation, good communication with school is essential. School budgets will dictate how much support can be given to a child who’s underachieving, but it’s reasonable to expect interventions such as small-group work to focus on literacy or numeracy, or support from a dedicated teaching assistant (TA).

If you’re unhappy with the school’s approach and feel your child is being pushed out because of their academic difficulties, there’s a specific complaints procedure to follow.

This will ensure that your concerns are heard and dealt with appropriately.