Thousands of children are being illegally excluded from school

Written by: HTU | Published:

An eight-month inquiry into illegal exclusions has found that thousands of children are falling victim to the practice, with many schools ignorant of the law. Pete Henshaw takes a look

The scale of illegal exclusions across England's schools has been revealed in a report that says the education of thousands of children is being affected by the practice.

The results of an eight-month inquiry by children's commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson into school exclusions were published late last month.

The study, Always Someone Else’s Problem, says that while most schools are staying within the law, illegal exclusions are still taking place across hundreds of institutions.

The report calls for schools which illegally exclude to be fined or for headteachers to be referred for professional misconduct in certain circumstances. It also attacks public bodies, including the Education Funding Agency and local authorities, for not doing enough.

It says pupils are often removed from school by being placed on part-time timetables, “extended study leave” or at “inappropriate and questionable quality alternative provision”.

Parents are also being coerced into moving their children to different schools or to home education under the threat of permanent exclusion. Furthermore, children with special needs are often being sent home if their carer or a teaching assistant is unavailable.

The report also finds that some schools fail to follow proper recording procedures, usually when logging exclusions for short periods. It adds: “These exclusions … may be frequently repeated with the same child, causing them to miss substantial periods of education.”

The report includes the results of a teachers’ survey involving 1,000 professionals, including 200 school leaders. It found that 6.7 per cent of schools have sent children home for disciplinary reasons without recording it as an exclusion – the equivalent of 1,600 schools across England. Also, 2.7 per cent of schools have sent pupils with SEN statements home because their carer or support assistant is unavailable, equating to 650 schools nationwide.

It also found that the equivalent of 540 schools across England have recorded pupils as “authorised absent” or “educated elsewhere” when in fact schools have encouraged them not to come in.

Elsewhere, 1.8 per cent of schools have encouraged parents to take their children out of school and educate them at home without recording it as an exclusion, equating to 192 schools.

The report finds that many parents, children and some teachers do not know the law around exclusions, meaning some schools are unaware that their actions are illegal and parents are in the dark.

It found that a third of teachers do not know that encouraging parents to home educate is illegal, while a quarter do not know that falsifying attendance records for a child who had been asked not to attend is against the law.

Meanwhile, four in 10 teachers do not know whether it is legal or not to send children with a statement of SEN home if a carer or assistant is unavailable.

The report attacks public bodies, for not doing enough. It states: “With the partial exception of Ofsted, no public body – local or national – is doing enough to identify and reduce illegal exclusions. This means illegal exclusions are unlikely to be reported or, if they are, it is unlikely anything will be done about them. Local authorities and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) are the bodies which ought to be tackling this issue.”

The report calls on the Department for Education to put pressure on local authorities and the EFA to “give due regard to their duties in this area”.

Elsewhere, the study says there are no meaningful sanctions and partly blames what it calls the “incentive structure for schools”. It calls on schools to publish clear information on exclusions and the rights of parents and children alongside their behaviour policies. It also says that Ofsted must review how it identifies illegal exclusions during inspections, and recommends using the Parent View website for this.

The study says that to remove potential incentives, any illegal exclusions must be reported to Ofsted as part of school monitoring and adds that if students are being illegally excluded for short periods then schools should be fined an amount equivalent to the funding it receives for that child annually.

It also suggests: “Where a school is found to have falsified registers in order to hide an illegal exclusion, this is a criminal offence and should be dealt with accordingly. The headteacher should be referred to the National College for professional misconduct.”

Dr Atkinson said: “We found that most schools are doing well and staying within the law but there are also areas for concern and improvement. We are not saying ‘never exclude’ but ‘do your very best not to and if you must, do so within the law’.

“We estimate that several hundred schools in England may be excluding children illegally, affecting thousands of children every year. This fact, surely, is a source of shame to the entire education system.

“We use the term ‘illegal’ to cover off the record, informal, under the radar exclusions, because that is what they are. Schools are providers of a statutory service, bound by the law. That some of them – however few – seem prepared to break it, is unacceptable.”

The inquiry comes after Dr Atkinson reported last year that boys, children from certain ethnic minorities, those on free school meals (FSM), and those with SEN were more likely to be excluded. In fact the report, They Never Give Up On You, found that a Black African Caribbean boy with SEN and FSM is 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded than a White girl with no SEN and from an affluent family.

Always Someone Else’s Problem can be downloaded at

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