Last reviewed on 10 September 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
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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.

8 September 2021: the DfE has extended its provisions for conducting remote meetings to 24 March 2022.

You may continue to hold meetings of the governors' exclusions panel and independent review panels (IRPs) remotely if it's not reasonably practicable to hold the meeting in person within the statutory timescales due to COVID-19 and:

  1. Everyone agrees to it
  2. Everyone has access to technology that will allow them to hear and speak throughout the meeting (and to see and be seen, if using a video link)
  3. Everyone will be able to put across their view or fulfil their function
  4. The meeting can be held fairly and transparently

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

Please note: fixed-term exclusions are now referred to as suspensions in the census return. We're expecting the DfE to update the statutory guidance document on exclusions and include this change. In the meantime, we still use the term 'exclusion' in this article to refer to both a permanent exclusion and a suspension (fixed-term exclusion). We'll reflect the updated guidance when it's published.

Exclusions process: flowchart

Exclusions are heavily regulated. All of the information in this article can be found in the statutory guidance on exclusion, published by the Department for Education (DfE). 

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

When a pupil can be excluded

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

Suspensions (fixed-period exclusions)

Suspensions (fixed-period exclusions) are temporary. A pupil can be excluded for 1 or more fixed periods, up to a maximum of 45 days in total per school year. 

Suspensions 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 suspension or convert a suspension into a permanent exclusion. However, they can issue a further suspension 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 allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school

A pupil's behaviour outside of school can also be considered as a reason for an exclusion, if this is in line with your school's behaviour policy. 

'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.

Reasons an exclusion may be unlawful

Non-disciplinary reasons

It's unlawful to exclude a child for non-disciplinary 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 

These are unlawful. The DfE gives the example of sending a pupil home to 'cool off'. Even if the parents agree with it, any exclusion of a pupil, even for short periods of time, must follow the formal exclusion procedures, 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 have higher than average exclusion rates. 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. 

The school should engage proactively with parents, social workers, foster carers and local authorities to support these pupils.

Where there are concerns about behaviour, or a pupil is at risk of exclusion, additional support or an alternative placement should be considered. Where a pupil has an EHC plan, schools should consider requesting an early annual review or interim/emergency review.

Again, any support should be well-documented.

Governors' responsibilities

Depending on the circumstances of the exclusion (e.g. for a fixed period 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 suspensions (fixed-period exclusion) for more than 5 days 
  • Considering complaints from parents related to an exclusion

If you're reading this article because you've been asked to sit on the governors' exclusions panel, you can find out more about this here.

Please also see the flow chart above for more details on when a governors' exclusion panel will be called and what powers/responsibilities the panel will have.

If a permanent exclusion is upheld, the governing board must ensure the pupil's name is removed from the school register. More details are available in the article linked above, including when this should be completed.