The current schools exclusions regime is intended to streamline the process relating to permanent exclusions and restore authority to head teachers and governing bodies. However, recent figures show that since the introduction of the regime in September 2012, the number of exclusions in schools in England has increased, sparking debate amongst both government and teaching unions.

Under the Education Act 2002,  the power to exclude lies exclusively with the head teacher, who may exclude a pupil for a fixed period or permanently. This decision may then be reviewed by the governing body, which must decide whether the pupil should be reinstated or not.

If the governing body upholds a permanent exclusion, parents can request an independent review of the decision. However, the Independent Review Panel (“IRP”) has no power to reinstate a pupil. The IRP may uphold the decision or recommend the governing body reconsider their decision. The IRP can also quash the decision and direct the governing body to reconsider the matter if it considers the decision was flawed and failed to comply with the rules of natural justice or fairness.

If the IRP quashes the exclusion and directs a reconsideration, the governing body are not obliged to reinstate the pupil following reconsideration. However, the IRP have strong persuasive powers and may order that in the event of the pupil not being reinstated, the school must pay the local authority £4,000 in addition to any funds that move with the excluded pupil. 

The Statistics

A Department for Education/Office for National Statistics report dated 30 July 2015 provides a summary of the statistics relating to permanent and fixed period exclusions from state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools during the 2013/14 academic year as reported in the School Census. The report indicates that:

  • the number of reviews lodged since 2012/13 has increased by 25%, but only 5.7% resulted in an offer of reinstatement (compared with 6.7% in 2012/13); 
  • The number of exclusions has increased across all school types, with the greatest increase in primary schools;
  • on average there are 26 permanent exclusions per day, the most common reason being persistent disruptive behaviour;
  • the rate of permanent exclusions has remained the same, apart from a slight increase in secondary schools;
  • the overall rate of suspensions has decreased, apart from a slight increase in primary schools;
  • the total number of suspensions has increased – on average there are 1,420 per day. Of these, more than 50 are as a result of assaulting a teacher.

Commentary

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has “saluted” the figures as a sign that “the new freedoms and greater clarity over exclusions given to head teachers are having a positive impact on behaviour”. He considers that the new powers provide head teachers with the “confidence” to exclude pupils. 

Not all see the figures in such a positive light. Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT union has commented that “the increase in suspensions show that, quite rightly, schools are not accepting violence against staff. However, there needs to be deeper analysis of why levels of violence are increasing.”

An alternative conclusion has been reached by Russell Hobby, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, who considers that  poor behaviour is attributable to government cuts to public services.

Whilst disagreement exists regarding the exact cause behind the increase in exclusions, most will agree that there is no ‘quick fix’. As Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers has commented: “These issues need to be addressed to ensure that all pupils are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential”.