Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Out for the count?

Exclusions are a last resort for schools, but when faced with no other option, school leaders need to know their rights and responsibilities.

Everyone recognises the dilemma of exclusions. On the one hand many pupils excluded from school never get back into education; on the other, some schools have experienced dramatic improvements after a fixed-term exclusion.

Before deciding whether to exclude a pupil, either permanently or for a fixed period, schools should:

  • ensure that an appropriate investigation has been carried out. This can be difficult if a party is unavailable; delay the decision if necessary.

  • consider all the evidence available, taking account of the school's behaviour and equal opportunities policies, the Race Relations Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.

  • allow the pupil to give his or her version of events. Take care that questioning techniques are not oppressive, based on leading questions or conditioned by threats of punishment. In some cases, you may want a parent or other adult present during the interview.

  • check whether the incident may have been provoked, for example by bullying or by racial or sexual harassment.

  • if necessary, consult others, but not anyone who may later have a role in reviewing the decision.

When to exclude

A school may exclude if satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, the pupil did what she or he is alleged to have done.

The burden of proof in a school is different from that required by a court. If the police have initiated criminal proceedings there may only be limited evidence available, but a head should still be able to make a judgement.

A head has two other factors to consider: the strategies adopted by the school to prevent the pupil from getting into this trouble and the alternatives available to avoid having to exclude.

Parents often choose to explore these avenues. Some LEAs and some schools have created a checklist which a head consults before making a decision about an exclusion, to see whether all relevant strategies have been tried.

DfES guidance says the following circumstances, including one-off events, are appropriate for permanent exclusion:

  • serious actual or threatened violence against another pupil or a member of staff.

  • sexual abuse or assault.

  • supplying an illegal drug or repeated possession or use of an illegal drug on school premises.

  • carrying an offensive weapon. This may require the school to inform the police because a criminal act may have taken place.

  • persistent and defiant misbehaviour including bullying, racist or homophobic bullying.

Heads may consider other offences to be equally severe, and the DfES guidance indicates this list is not exhaustive.

In any of these cases, DfES guidance states: "The secretary of state would not normally expect the governors' discipline committee or an independent appeal panel to reinstate the pupil." Heads may want to ensure that the governors are aware of this guidance.


Conflict resolution teams exist in some areas and in others, youth action groups will support such an approach. There are two other options schools could explore: internal exclusion or a managed move.

Internal exclusion allows a pupil to stay on site even though she or he may have been removed from a class.

The exclusion could be to a designated area, with specific support, and may continue during break periods. Support might include conflict resolution intervention and the use of external mentors.

Headteachers sometimes state the expected outcomes that will lead to the student's full reintegration. The expectations need to be reasonable, and care needs to be taken that the proposals are the most appropriate balance between punishment and efforts to encourage improvement.

Managed moves can work admirably where it is in the best interest of the pupil, and where the parents and the LEA are involved in the deliberations. Heads cannot pressurise parents into removing their child from the school under threat of permanent exclusion.

SHA members have reported on some long-standing and effective arrangements in their area, but there are also stories about arrangements that only benefit the LEA.

Members are advised to contribute to any local discussions about such arrangements.

By 2007, schools will need to work together in groups on dealing with exclusions. It is sensible to start making moves toward collaboration now.

More information

More information on exclusion can be found in SHA's Guidance Paper Six, Exclusions: issues, procedures, avoidance strategies and reinstatement. Download it from www.sha.org.uk, in the members' section under guidance and advice. Guidance papers are available only to members.

See also the DfES guidance paper Improving Behaviour and Attendance on www.teachernet.gov.uk

© 2021 Association of School and College Leaders | Designed with IMPACT