The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

For pupils with SEND, exclusion is a road to nowhere

Turning our pupils away should always be a last resort. Schools and parents can find more positive solutions if they work together. 

In the last year, I received a steady stream of queries about exclusions and SEND. This may indicate additional pressure on schools to meet external accountability measures or academic targets. Or it could be a sign that SENCOs, headteachers and parents/carers want to ensure that they remain compliant with legislation.

In any case, it’s important to be clear on facts and dispel any fictions.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but hope that I can be of some use by highlighting places of support for anyone seeking clarification or information.

No cooling off

I often hear about schools sending pupils home to ‘cool off’, or putting them on a part-time timetable for long periods of time. Unofficial or informal exclusions are simply illegal, even if parents and carers agree with the decision to exclude. 

A pupil can only be:

  • legitimately absent with an authorised reason
  • absent with an unauthorised reason
  • excluded from school.

The law applies

Paragraph 13 of the relevant statutory guidance, ‘Exclusion from Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units in England’, confirms that ‘there are rare exceptions to children only being able to attend school part-time and a school’s lack of ability to meet SEN is not one of them’.

Unofficial or informal exclusions are simply illegal, even if parents and carers agree to them

Only the headteacher of a school can exclude a pupil and this must be on disciplinary grounds. It is illegal to exclude a pupil for a non-disciplinary reason, such as if they were to have an additional need or disability that the school felt it was unable to meet. Excluding pupils on account of poor academic attainment is also prohibited.

A pupil may be excluded for one or more fixed periods (up to a maximum of 45 school days in a single academic year), or permanently.

A fixed-period exclusion can also be for part of the school day. For example, if a pupil’s behaviour at lunchtime is disruptive, they may be excluded from the school premises for the duration of the lunchtime period.

The legal parameters of exclusion, including the headteacher’s duty to notify parents, are applicable in all cases. Lunchtime exclusions count as half a school day for statistical purposes and in determining whether or not a meeting of the governing body is required.

The law does not allow for extending a fixed-term exclusion or ‘converting’ a fixed-period exclusion into a permanent exclusion.

The headteacher and governing body must comply with their statutory duties in relation to SEN when administering the exclusion process

In exceptional cases, usually where further evidence has come to light, a fixed-term exclusion may in effect be ‘extended’ by issuing a further fixed-term exclusion to begin immediately after the first period ends, by issuing a permanent exclusion to begin immediately after the end of the initial period.

Under the Equality Act 2010, schools must not discriminate against, harass or victimise pupils because of: sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity or gender reassignment.

For disabled children, this includes a duty to make reasonable adjustments to policies and practices and the provision of auxiliary aids.

The headteacher and governing body must comply with their statutory duties in relation to SEN when administering the exclusion process, including those set out in the SEND Code of Practice

Does your school clearly set out its procedure for excluding pupils? Optimus members can download and adapt our exclusion of pupils model policy to create a comprehensive document. 

Outcomes above all

In response to a consultation on recent changes to the statutory guidance, the DfE signalled its broad agreement with the idea that headteachers should consider whether or not a pupil has SEND before issuing an exclusion. But this has been perceived as ambiguous.

Statistics show that a high proportion of pupils that have been excluded had previously been identified as having SEND. 

It is unacceptable that outcomes remain so poor for pupils with SEND. This isn’t a simple issue to address, as the extent of provision continues to vary from one location or type of school to the next. But we need complete transparency and proper co-production in finding solutions.

In the twenty years I’ve worked with young people and their families, I have always tried to find alternative solutions in partnership with everyone involved to improve outcomes for individuals.

After all, that is exactly what co-production is about!

It is unacceptable that outcomes remain so poor for pupils with SEND

It isn’t always easy to work collaboratively in a climate of diminishing resources and increased external accountability. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that if SEND isn’t being met through existing provision, and pupils are at risk of exclusion, the local authority has a duty to provide additional resources to ensure that provision is met.

Unanswered questions

  1. Why could there be such a strong correlation between exclusion rates and SEND? What is going wrong?
  2. Going forward, what can schools, parents and local authorities do to avoid the unnecessary exclusion of pupils with SEND? 

In the first instance, perhaps we need to take greater care in order to ensure that needs are identified and properly met. However, at this point I would advocate for a good understanding of the law and using IPSEA’s exclusion checklist and resources as a starting point.

Come together

A few years ago, I met with our headteacher and a parent to discuss a Year 7 pupil for whom things had become quite difficult. ‘What do you think we could do differently to support your son?’ asked the headteacher of the parent.

Amid a flush of tears, the parent proclaimed that in all her time fighting for provision, and challenging exclusion at primary school, no one had ever asked for her opinion.

Too often, decisions are ‘handed down’ without prior consultation

Even in the most difficult circumstances, we are far more likely to reach the outcomes our young people deserve if we work together.

Too often, decisions are ‘handed down’ without prior consultation – exclusions are no exception. The sooner this changes, the better.

More from Optimus

Further reading


Similar Posts

Sarah Hopp

Why we need neurodivergent staff

A neurodiverse workforce isn’t about being charitable, it’s about creating a workforce rich in a range of perspectives and creativity. Sarah Hopp explains more. In educational policy and practice, focus is often placed on encouraging pupils and students to celebrate who they are as diverse, unique...
Sarah Hopp

Why neurodiversity is not a diagnosis

Misuse of the term neurodiversity can promote a ‘them and us’ attitude, Sarah Hopp argues. Instead, she explains how to truly embrace our differences and uniqueness. In recent years, the term ‘neurodiversity’ coined by Judy Singer in 1998 has become prevalent in educational literature and policy...
Elizabeth Holmes

Therapeutic Storywriting Groups

Intervention strategies that improve academic achievement and wellbeing are few and far between. Elizabeth Holmes finds out more about Therapeutic Storywriting which does both. When the issues that some children face in their lives are such that they are at risk of missing out on school life and...