Advice on Exclusions

Everything you need to know about excluding a student, including the correct procedure and how to ensure a legal expulsion.

  • The different types of exclusion
  • Reasons for excluding a student
  • Rules on expelling students with special educational needs

Expelling a Student from School

Under the Education Act 2002, a head teacher in a state or private school in England and Wales is able to exclude a pupil either temporarily or permanently if there are behavioural issues that prove to be inconsistent with the general standard of conduct expected and set out in the school’s behaviour policy.

School exclusions are supposed to be seen as a last resort and only used after other methods of resolving issues have been attempted without success. A Local Authority will usually try to prevent exclusions, and any attempt by a Head Teacher to use exclusion as a way of setting an example will be considered unacceptable.

The Department for Education (DfE) and Welsh Assembly Government both state that alternatives must be considered before expelling a student from school, and that certain procedural steps must be followed. If they are not, then it could result in a parent appealing and overturning the penalty. Taking expert exclusion advice for schools from a specialist education law solicitor will ensure the correct process of expelling a student is followed.

Who can expel a student?

The only people who can exclude or expel a pupil are the Head Teacher of a school, the teacher in charge of a Pupil Referral Unit, or the Principal of an Academy.

How do I expel a student from school?

Head teachers are supported by the Government in using exclusion where it is deemed appropriate. Permanent exclusion should only be considered when there has been a serious breach, or continuous breaches, of the school behaviour policy and where allowing the pupil to stay in the school would significantly impair their education or welfare, or that of other pupils in the school.

The pupil should be given a proper chance to state his or her case, and it should be clear to the Head Teacher that the incident leading to the expulsion was not provoked by, for example, harassment or bullying.

A formal letter is the next step, and this should set out the reasons for the exclusion, as well as the steps for the parents to follow should they wish to challenge the decision.

Within 15 days of the exclusion, the Governors’ Discipline Committee must meet, even if there is no appeal by the parents. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure the circumstances leading to the exclusion have been investigated in an appropriate manner; that all the evidence has been duly considered and that anti-discrimination law and the school’s policies have been followed.

The procedure for expelling a student that has committed a criminal offence such as theft or violence also involves informing the police, although again it is very important to consider extenuating circumstances. Has the pupil’s behaviour affected other pupils? Did it have a significant effect on the school? Is the pupil suffering from health issues or peer or parent pressure? Would the pupil be likely to repeat the offence?

All of these factors must be considered before expelling a student.

What are the reasons for which a student can be expelled?

All school expulsions must be lawful, fair and reasonable. Schools have a statutory duty to ensure there is no discrimination involved when expelling a student from school, and particular consideration must be extended to certain groups who are more vulnerable to exclusion than others.

A Head Teacher should only permanently exclude a pupil when they have seriously or continuously breached the school’s behaviour policy, either inside or outside the school, or where allowing the pupil to remain in school would significantly affect the welfare or education of the pupil or others at the school.

There are circumstances under which a pupil can be expelled for a first or single offence without having to consider alternative remedies and these include serious threats of or actual violence, sexual abuse or assault, carrying an offensive weapon or the supply of an illegal drug. All of these offences are considered criminal and must also be reported to the police.

How can I ensure that an expulsion is legal?

All expulsions must be lawful in accordance with legislation directly relating to exclusions, as well as wider legislation such as the Equality Act 2010.

Head teachers will often question how to expel a student from school legally. The expulsion must be fair, reasonable and rational and in proportion to the offence, and the head teacher should be satisfied that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ it would be more likely than not that a certain fact is true, for the process to be legally compliant. A full and detailed investigation, thoroughly looking at all the issues and considering each individual’s version of events, must also be undertaken.

Additionally, under the Equality Act 2010, schools are not allowed to discriminate against pupils on the grounds of disability, religion, belief, sex, race or sexual orientation, or because they have undergone gender reassignment or are pregnant. This must be a key consideration when expelling a student from school, and also when setting policies and procedures.

All school exclusions must be recorded in a formal manner, even if they were just for a short period.

What are the rules for expelling students with special educational needs?

When expelling a special education student, Head Teachers must consider their statutory duties and follow the SEND Code of Practice.

The reasons for school exclusion must be discipline based, so expelling a student on the grounds that they have a requirement for additional needs or are unable to reach a certain level of academic ability, or expelling a student with disabilities that the school is unable to cater for, will not be considered to be compliant with the law.

What are the different types of exclusion?

There are two types of school exclusion:

Fixed Term Exclusion: This involves a pupil being temporarily excluded from school for a set period of time. Pupils can only be excluded for a maximum of 45 days in total across one school year. All fixed period exclusions must be for the shortest time necessary and head teachers should bear in mind how difficult it can be for pupils to get back into school life after they have been excluded. If it is decided that a fixed period exclusion needs to be extended or made into a permanent exclusion, then a letter must be sent to the parents outlining the reasons for the decision.

Pupils who display unruly behaviour during break or lunchtimes can be excluded from school premises for the duration of the break periods and the duty of the head teacher in notifying the parents applies in the same way.

Permanent Exclusion: This involves the pupil not being allowed to return to the school and should only ever be a last resort. Expelling a student should only ever be on the grounds of a disciplinary matter and should never be used as a punishment or to set an example to other pupils.

Expert Advice on Expelling a Student from School

Expelling a student can be something of a minefield: there are numerous legal obligations and statutes to adhere to, and if a parent decides to appeal the decision, this can become very time consuming for the school to deal with. HCB Solicitors are specialist education lawyers, advising schools across England and Wales on a daily basis and keeping them within the law when it comes to taking action and making decisions. If you need advice on the process of expelling a student or expelling a student with disabilities or special needs, make a call to us today. Our guidance is fully tailored and based on many years of experience.

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