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Last reviewed on 8 June 2020
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Understand the statutory framework surrounding exclusions and what you might be asked to do as part of the exclusions process. Download our exclusions process flowchart to get up-to-speed quickly.


In May, the government set out provisional guidelines that affected:

  • All exclusions that occurred before 1 June that hadn’t yet been considered by your board 
  • All exclusions that occur up to 24 September 

For exclusions occurring between 25 September and 24 March 2021, your school should return to normal timescales as set out in the DfE’s guidance on school exclusion. 

Please bear in mind that the article below hasn't been updated to reflect the coronavirus situation.

Exclusions process: flowchart

Exclusions are heavily regulated. All of the information in this article can be found in statutory guidance from the Department for Education (DfE). 

To get started, take a look at our flowchart setting out the process schools must follow when excluding a pupil, either permanently or for a fixed period.

When a pupil can be excluded

Only headteachers or those acting in the capacity of headteacher can decide to exclude a pupil. In all cases, the decision to exclude must be lawful, rational, reasonable, fair, and proportionate. 

There are two different types of exclusions: fixed-term and permanent.

'Internal exclusions' are not formal exclusions and don't fall under the statutory exclusions framework. An example of an internal exclusion is sending a child to work in an isolation unit, as a sanction.

Fixed-term exclusions

Fixed-term exclusions are temporary. A pupil can be excluded for 1 or more fixed terms, up to  a maximum of 45 days in total per school year. 

Fixed-term exclusions can also be for just a part of the school day, such as a lunchtime exclusion. Each lunchtime exclusion counts as half a day when determining the total number of days excluded per term and/or school year.

The headteacher cannot extend a fixed-term exclusion or convert a fixed-term exclusion into a permanent exclusion. However, they can issue a further fixed-period or a permanent exclusion to begin immediately after the end of the first fixed period. This usually happens where further evidence has come to light.

At the governance level, this means you may have to be involved in multiple processes involving one pupil, as each exclusion must be considered independently. 

Permanent exclusions

A permanent exclusion should always be a last resort and should only be taken:

  1. In response to a serious breach, or persistent breaches, of the school's behaviour policy; and

  2. Where a pupil’s behaviour means that allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school

There's no set limit on how long after an incident a headteacher can exclude a pupil. A pupil's behaviour outside of school can also be considered as a reason for a permanent exclusion, if this is in line with your school's behaviour policy. 

Reasons an exclusion may be unlawful

Nondisciplinary reasons

It's unlawful to exclude a child for nondisciplinary reasons. Examples of unlawful reasons include:

  • The actions of the pupil’s parents
  • The pupil having additional needs or a disability that the school feels unable to meet
  • Poor academic ability or attainment
  • The pupil failing to meet specific conditions before they're reinstated, such as failing to attend a reintegration meeting

'Informal' or 'unofficial' exclusions 

The DfE provides the example of sending a pupil home to 'cool off'. Even if the parents agree, any event in which a pupil is sent home is an exclusion and all formal exclusion procedures must be followed, including recording the exclusion.

Exclusions which require special consideration

Pupils in the sixth form

Pupils over compulsory school age can be excluded, but only for behavioural reasons as set out in the statutory guidance. 

Asking a student to leave for a non-disciplinary reason, such as academic attainment, would be considered an unlawful exclusion. Similarly, using the threat of exclusion to convince parents to remove their child from a school is unlawful. Both of these are examples of off-rolling.

To be clear, a school can set specific academic standards for entry to year 12, but the expectation is that the student will progress to year 13. They can't be asked to leave the school for failing to reach a certain academic standard at the end of year 12. 

This doesn't apply to sixth form colleges, as they set their own exclusion policies.

Pupils from groups with disproportionately high rates of exclusion

Certain groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded. These include:

  • Pupils with special educational needs (SEN)
  • Children who qualify for free school meals
  • Looked after children
  • Children from certain ethnic groups - Gypsy/Roma, Travellers of Irish heritage and Caribbean pupils

Before excluding these pupils, headteachers should take steps to intervene early and identify and address the specific needs of these pupils. All attempts at intervention should be well-documented.

Pupils with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and looked after children (LAC)

These children have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to the impact of exclusion. As a result, headteachers should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding these pupils. 

To mitigate the possibility of permanent exclusion, the school should engage proactively with parents, social workers, foster carers, and local authorities to support these pupils.

Where a pupil with an EHC plan is at risk of exclusion, additional support or an alternate placement should be considered. This should include requesting an early annual review or interim/emergency review.

Again, there should be extensive documentation to support the exclusion as a last resort.

Governors' responsibilities

Depending upon the circumstances of the exclusion (e.g. fixed-term or permanent, number of days excluded, etc.), you may be called upon to perform a number of tasks. These might include:

  • Sitting on a governors' exclusion panel to formally review an exclusion and decide whether to reinstate the pupil
  • Chairing a governors' exclusion panel
  • Arranging for alternative education for those pupils on fixed-term exclusion for more than 5 days 
  • Considering complaints from the parents related to an exclusion
  • Sitting on an independent review panel that reviews the decision of the governors' exclusion panel

If you're reading this article because you've been asked to sit on the governors exclusions panel, you'll want to know more about governors' exclusions panels.


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