School Exclusions and the Law
If your child has been excluded from school, you are likely to have numerous questions about where this leaves the future of your child’s education. School exclusions are divided into two types, fixed-term exclusions and permanent exclusions. While permanent exclusions mean that your child is removed from the school roll, a fixed-term exclusion is for a limited period. Only a head teacher, acting head teacher or teacher in charge of a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) can exclude a child.
Fixed-Term ExclusionsThese types of exclusions cannot be open-ended. The child should know exactly how long he or she has been excluded from school and when he or she will be allowed to return. The maximum amount of time for which a child can be excluded is 45 days in any single school year. It is also possible to exclude a child at lunch time, which counts for a half day in England and quarter of a day in Wales. The independent watchdog Ofsted has stated that a fixed-term exclusion of between one and three days is usually long enough to demonstrate the consequences of the child’s behaviour without affecting his or her development and education.
Fixed-term exclusions should only be used where a child has seriously breached a school’s behaviour policy and the breach is not serious enough for a permanent exclusion, and other sanctions such as detention are not appropriate. A pupil can appeal a fixed term exclusion decision through the school’s governing body.
Permanent ExclusionsPermanent exclusions should be used as a last resort, and if all other processes and means of trying to improve the child’s behaviour have failed. There should be a structured process prior to the exclusion, that should endeavour to address the child’s behaviour before any such decision permanently to exclude is made. Each school must have a policy on exclusion, and staff must be trained and procedures implemented to encourage the good behaviour of school children.
If your child is permanently excluded, you can appeal within a set time limit. Failure to lodge an appeal within the specified time may mean that your child’s exclusion is permanent. Of course, any appeal may not be successful but if your child has been excluded it is worth seeking advice on the merits of an appeal as early as possible. If the appeal to the school’s governing body fails, a child who is permanently excluded can appeal to an independent appeal panel.
If you are still unhappy with the decision of the independent appeal panel, you may be able to judicially review it. This is, however, a complicated and drawn out process, and you should seek specialist legal advice from an education lawyer before embarking on this course of action.
Decisions Permanently to ExcludeA decision to exclude a child from a school permanently should only be made in the following circumstances:
- Where the child has seriously breached a school’s policy on behaviour, either because of one very serious offence or several offences AND
- That allowing the child to stay at the school would seriously damage the welfare and/or education of the child, or that of other pupils at the school.
A permanent exclusion is usually issued when an incident is exceptionally serious. This may be, for example, because the child has:
- Threatened or used serious violence against a teacher, other member of staff or pupil
- Carried out an act of sexual abuse or assault
- Supplied illicit drug(s)
- Been found to be carrying a weapon
Non-Exclusion OffencesA child should never be excluded for committing minor incidents, such as failing to complete homework, for being late, breaches of school uniform rules, or for poor academic performance. A child should not be excluded as punishment for the behaviour of their parents, for example, if the parents fail to attend a scheduled meeting about their child. It is also never appropriate to exclude a child who is being bullied by sending them home for their own protection. Similarly, it is not lawful for a child to be ‘informally excluded’, by being sent home to calm down, for example.
What About SEN children or those with disabilities?It is illegal to exclude a child on the ground of his or her disability. Schools should avoid sending SEN children home other than in exceptional situations.
School Exclusion ProcedureOnce the decision has been made to exclude a child, the head teacher should decide whether the exclusion is to be fixed-term or permanent. If it is a fixed-term exclusion, the length must be fixed for a precise period of time, and reasons for the exclusion should be given in a letter within one school day. Usually the parent or guardian will be informed by telephone on the day of the exclusion. The parent has a right to make representations to the school’s governing body, and the letter should set out how to do this and who to contact in order to do this.
There is a right to see the child’s school record, and the parent or guardian should also be informed that their child should not be in a public place during the period of exclusion without reasonable justification. If this is not adhered to, the parent may be prosecuted or fined. If the local authority or the school considers that the child’s parent may have had something to do with the child’s poor behaviour, the parent may be offered a Parenting Contract.
The school should allow the child to continue his or her education during the first five days that the exclusion is in place. The parent or guardian remains responsible for ensuring that the child completes the work and that it is sent back to the school.
At the end of a fixed-term exclusion, the parent should be invited by the school to attend the school for a ‘reintegration interview.’ This is to help the child back to school and to help him or her improve their behaviour. The child will normally be allowed to attend all or part of this interview.