School exclusions and managing ‘challenging behaviour’ – UK Government assessment
The UK Government has taken steps to address gaps in the existing policy and legal framework regulating the use of exclusions. However, several reforms remain unimplemented. Groups with certain protected characteristics remain disproportionately likely to be excluded, and there is growing evidence regarding the use of unlawful, informal exclusions. Longstanding concerns about excessive use of restraint in schools also remain unaddressed; in particular, a lack of data continues to hamper schools’ ability to evaluate and respond to their own use of restrictive practices.
- Residential special schools must record incidents of reasonable force, but there is otherwise no legal duty on schools in England to record the use of restraint. As a result, the extent to which restraint is used, and any disproportionate use on children with protected characteristics, is unknown. The absence of standardised data on the use of restraint further impedes efforts to monitor and minimise its use.
- There is widespread anecdotal evidence about the excessive use of restraint in education.
- Disabled children – in particular, children with learning disabilities, autism or complex needs – are at greater risk of restraint in educational settings. Moreover, there are concerns that restraint is being used inappropriately to manage ‘challenging’ behaviour.
- Following concerns about the absence of official data and monitoring requirements regarding the use of restraint, we are undertaking an inquiry into the recording practices of schools in England and Wales.
- The overall rate of permanent exclusions in England has remained stable since 2016/17 at 0.10%, following a gradual rise since 2012/13.
- The overall rate of fixed-term exclusions has risen every year since 2013/14, though it has been falling in special schools since 2016/17.
- Evidence suggests that exclusions are used disproportionately for certain groups, including children with special educational needs, boys, those eligible for free school meals, Irish traveller heritage and Gypsy Roma heritage pupils, Black Caribbean, and Mixed White and Black Caribbean pupils.
- There have been growing concerns about ‘off-rolling’ – the process of removing pupils from the school roll without a formal exclusion and primarily in the interests of the school rather than the learner – and other forms of informal exclusions. Inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found that unofficial exclusions had been used ‘too readily’ to cope with pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. The new Ofsted inspection framework, which came into effect in September 2019, reiterates that ‘off-rolling’ is never acceptable.
- There are concerns that new rules introduced in response to the pandemic may reduce tolerance towards challenging behaviour. A report of interim Ofsted visits found that rates of fixed-term exclusions had risen very occasionally, due to barriers in implementing usual forms of sanction before exclusion.
- Although the Department for Education is pursuing programmes of work related to behaviour, there are concerns regarding progress with implementation of the Timpson review recommendations.
- The Timpson review was criticised for not identifying sufficient actions for tackling racial discrimination.
- Children experience barriers to challenging exclusions. Following a decision to exclude, pupils in England under the age of 18 are unable to apply for a review of the decision in their own right – only their parent or guardian can do so on their behalf. The first review is conducted by the school’s governing body, not an independent panel, and free legal aid is not available to all pupils to challenge an exclusion.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on school exclusions and managing ‘challenging behaviour’.