On 11 November 2019, human rights charity JUSTICE released a report highlighting problems with school exclusions in England. Their report makes a range of recommendations aimed at improving the independence of the process for challenging exclusions and giving young people and their parents the information and support they need to make those challenges.
The rate of permanent exclusions, or expulsions, in England is far higher than in Wales, Scotland or Norther Ireland, even after adjusting for population size. Exclusions also affect certain groups of children disproportionately. 45% of permanently excluded children had Special Education Needs and permanent exclusion rates were much higher amongst Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, Black Caribbean children as well as children eligible for free school meals.
Earlier this year, the Timpson Review was published. It looked at how exclusion was used and why certain groups of pupils were more likely to be excluded. We wrote about it in our June 2019 newsletter. JUSTICE's report builds on it, highlighting weaknesses in the current system and making recommendations to empower children and their parents to challenge exclusions.
JUSTICE found that even before a decision to exclude was taken, changes were needed to reduce exclusions. Schools sometimes failed to understand the Equality Act applied to policies and procedures around behaviour and then sought to apply behaviour policies too rigidly. Poor communication between the school and parents/caregivers as a reason for relevant information about the child being missed prior to a headteacher's decision to exclude them.
Once a decision to permanently exclude had been taken, there is a two stage process that parents/caregivers can follow to challenge the exclusion.
The first stage requires the headteacher's decision to be reconsidered by the school's governing body. Although the governing body have the power to overrule the headteacher's decision, the sample surveyed by JUSTICE found that in 95% of cases, they agreed with the headteacher.
The second stage involves an independent panel reviewing the decision to exclude. This only takes place if the child's parent or caregiver requests it and the panel cannot direct the school to allow the child to return.
Poor communication, as well as a lack of accessible information and advice on exclusions, was identified as a key barrier to families trying to challenge their child's exclusions through the two stage process.
JUSTICE made a number of recommendations including:
Sticking rigidly to behaviour policies doesn't allow for the fact that challenging behaviour can be a sign of unmet needs. All pupils, and particularly those with a mental health problem, need a system that provides support and not just punishment.
Mind welcomes JUSTICE's report and think the recommendations set out a framework which will help to reduce the number of permanent exclusions in the first place and then provide an accessible and independent way to challenge them when they do happen.
Our legal newsletter provides a regular update on cases and policy in relation to mental health, mental capacity, discrimination and community care. To receive the newsletter by email please click the link below.