School exclusions and managing ‘challenging behaviour’ – UK Government assessment
There have been legal or policy changes to improve human rights protections but very limited evidence of sustained improvements in the enjoyment of human rights on this issue
The UK Government has taken welcome steps to address gaps in the existing policy and legal framework regulating the use of exclusions in England. Groups with certain protected characteristics remain disproportionately likely to be excluded. The UK Government has committed to take steps to improve the recording and monitoring of restraint in schools. A lack of data currently hampers schools’ ability to evaluate and respond to their own use of restrictive practices.
- Our inquiry into the restraint recording practices of schools in England and Wales found that restraint in schools needs to be monitored, recorded and analysed to better understand how, where, why and when restraint is used and how its use can be minimised. There is currently no legal duty on schools in England to record the use of restraint although the UK Government is taking steps to improve recording and monitoring practices.
- Children and young people with a learning disability, autism and mental health conditions are at greater risk of displaying behaviours that challenge and are therefore at heightened risk of experiencing restraint and restrictive intervention.
- The revised suspensions and permanent exclusions guidance applied in England aims to provide greater clarity on schools’ responsibilities when considering suspensions and permanent exclusions and help identify and address disparities in suspension and permanent exclusion rates. The revised guidance includes provision for capturing the views of pupils but removes references to some groups that experience disproportionate exclusions.
- The number of suspensions in England increased to 352,454 in 2020/21, up from 310,733 in 2019/20. This may have been connected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
- The number of permanent exclusions in England decreased from 5,100 in 2019/20 to 3,900 in in 2020/21. These reductions were seen across all school types and may also have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Certain groups are at a higher risk of being excluded, including children with special educational needs, boys, those eligible for free school meals and Irish Traveller, Gypsy, Roma, Black Caribbean and mixed White and Black Caribbean pupils.
- Children experience barriers to challenging exclusions in England. Following a decision to exclude them, pupils in England under the age of 18 are unable to apply for a review of the decision in their own right – only a parent or guardian can do so on their behalf. The school’s governing body, rather than an independent panel, conducts the first review. Legal aid for free legal advice and representation is no longer available for pupils, their parents or guardians to challenge an exclusion.
- A research review published by Ofsted in 2019 discussed growing concerns about ‘off-rolling’ – the process of removing pupils from the school roll without a formal exclusion – in England and other forms of informal exclusion. Inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in 2017 found that unofficial exclusions had been used ‘too readily’ to cope with pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. The Ofsted education inspection framework, which came into effect in September 2019, reiterates that ‘off-rolling’ is never acceptable.
- We welcome many of the recommendations of the Timpson Review, but are concerned that it did not identify sufficient measures for addressing disproportionate exclusion of certain ethnic minority pupils, including tackling discriminatory practices.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on school exclusions and managing ‘challenging behaviour’.