At times, autistic children and young people may face expulsion from school - a decision that a child may no longer attend a particular school’s premises. Here, we explain the reasons a child can be expelled, what should happen before expulsion and the expulsion process. We also talk about making an appeal and the appeal hearing.

We also have information about suspension from school in Northern Ireland.

If your child has been expelled from a private/independent school, you may wish to telephone our Education Rights Service. These types of schools have separate procedures which are not covered in this information.

Reasons a child can be expelled

An expulsion can only be made by the Education Authority (EA) or the Board of Governors of other grant aided and Catholic maintained schools. 
 
Schools must have a discipline policy which explains the required standards for pupils and under what circumstances a suspension or expulsion may occur. The purpose of expulsion is punishment for serious breach of the school discipline policy. Guidance from the Department of Education states that a decision to suspend or expel a pupil should only be taken:
  • When allowing the pupil to remain in school would pose a serious threat to the health and safety of other pupils and staff
  • After a range of strategies to modify the pupil’s behaviour have been tried and failed
  • Where there have been serious breaches of the schools discipline policy
  • After all relevant facts and evidence have been examined and the pupil and others involved have given their version of events
  • When a responsible adult is available at home to receive the pupil.
Expulsion is not suitable for minor breaches of school rules, such as:
  • failure to complete homework
  • lateness or truancy
  • breaches of school uniform rules
  • incidents that occur outside school hours and off school premises (except school activities).

In addition to this, a pupil can't be expelled because of poor academic performance or for any purpose other than punishment for disciplinary reasons.

Guidance also states that expulsion is an acknowledgement by a school that it can no longer provide for a pupil and should not be taken lightly. It should be used when all other strategies have persistently failed.

Before expulsion 

A pupil can only be expelled if they have been suspended first and there has been consultation between you and the:
  • principal
  • chief executive of the EA (or another officer authorised by him/her) if the pupil attends a controlled school
  • chairperson of the Board of Governors; and
  • Director of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) (or another authorised officer) if your child attends a Catholic maintained school.
Your child should also be involved in the decision making process. If you decide not to take part in the consultation process then your child can still be expelled.

In addition to the consultation process you may be invited to state your case to an expulsions committee set up by the EA (for controlled schools) or to the Board of Governors (for other grant-aided and Catholic maintained schools) who will make the final decision about whether your child should be expelled.

You may want to contribute to the consultation process and expulsions committee hearing or meeting with the Board of Governors. This would be your opportunity to explain your reasons for disagreeing with a decision to expel to your child.  For example, you may feel that other measures or strategies could have been tried. If the recommendation to expel is as a result of your child’s behaviour, this could suggest that the right support is not in place for them.

You may feel that the school has failed to look at why they behaved in that way. Is it anxiety, which many people autistic people experience? Are their needs being fully addressed and supported?  

To help prepare, you may wish to ask for copies of:

  • your child’s school record and any education plans they have (e.g. IEP and/or statement)
  • the school’s discipline and special educational needs policies and scheme which outlines their expulsion procedures
  • any witness statements, including your child’s, if the expulsion was as a result of an incident.
If you are invited to a meeting with the school or Board of Governors or expulsions committee hearing you may also want to:
  • take a friend or advisor for support during the meeting
  • write down what you would like to say and read it out
  • make a list of questions you have and tick them off as the meeting progresses.

The expulsion process

Your child’s school will have a scheme that explains the procedures to be followed when a decision is made to expel a pupil. You may wish to contact your child’s school or the EA (or CCMS if your child attends a Catholic maintained school) for a copy.

If your child is expelled from a controlled school the EA must immediately give you written notification of the reasons for the expulsion and your right to appeal, including the time limits for appealing and where to lodge the appeal.  They must also notify the Board of Governors of their decision.
 
If your child attends another grant aided or Catholic maintained school, the Board of Governors must immediately give you written notification of the reasons for the expulsion and your right to appeal, including the time limits for appealing and where to lodge the appeal. 
 

Special educational needs and expulsion

Your child may still be expelled if he or she has special educational needs. However, your child’s special educational needs as well as their age, maturity, home life and other relevant circumstances should be considered before a decision is taken. 
You may feel that your child’s expulsion is unfair and that if more appropriate support was in place for your child it could have been prevented. 
 
Read more about getting extra help in school.  

Education during and after expulsion

The consultation process before a decision is made to expel your child must include discussions about your child’s future education. They have the right to remain in school until they are formally expelled, unless they are suspended, so the school must not suggest transferring your child to another school until the formal procedures have started.

Making an appeal  

A decision to expel a pupil from school can be reviewed by an appeal tribunal that is set up and maintained by the EA.

If your child attends a controlled school, the EA must tell you how to appeal and any deadlines. If your child attends another grant aided or Catholic maintained school, the Board of Governors will give you details. 

The tribunal is usually made up of three or five people, including a chairperson, appointed by the EA. The panel members will normally include people who represent the interests of schools in the area and people who have experience of local education arrangements or parents but won’t include anyone who has been involved in the matter or school concerned. 

If your child has been expelled you have 10 days to lodge an appeal to the Expulsions Appeal Tribunal. This starts from the date you received the expulsion letter. 

Your appeal must be made in writing and should state that you wish to appeal the decision to expel your child from school. 

In the letter, or at a later date, you may also want to include:

  • details of the expulsion
  • your views on the expulsion and reasons for disagreeing with the decision
  • a copy of any letter(s) you received from the school or others about the expulsion
  • copies of any other documents or information that will help to put your views across. 
The EA or Board of Governors may also send information to the appeals tribunal about their views on the expulsion and may be asked by the tribunal to provide further information, such as details of the procedures they followed.

You can telephone our Education Rights Service if you'd like help preparing your appeal letter.

The appeal hearing

At the hearing you will be given the chance to put your views across and address the appeals tribunal panel.  The hearing is designed to be informal so that you can present your views.  

Before the hearing you may be asked to give details of people you will be bringing to the hearing with you. You can bring:

  • someone to support you, such as a friend, relative, befriender or professional
  • a representative or advocate who will conduct the hearing on your behalf.

About the tribunal's decision and the appeal process

The tribunal panel will look at the information provided by all parties. They will also consider any information that has been presented at the hearing by either you, the school, the EA or Board of Governors. In particular, they will consider whether the expulsion procedures were followed properly and will take into account the interests of the other pupils and teachers at the school. 

The tribunal can either allow the appeal and direct the school to re-admit your child, or they can agree with the decision to expel and dismiss the appeal. If the school has not fully complied with the law or scheme the appeal will be allowed.

Once the appeal tribunal panel reaches a decision they will write to you and the EA or Board of Governors with details of their decision. If you are not happy with the tribunal’s decision then you may wish to seek legal advice.
 

Disability discrimination  

In some cases, a school’s decision to expel can be challenged by making a disability discrimination claim to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

A disability discrimination claim can be made if the child concerned is defined as having a disability and:
  • they have unlawfully been treated less favourably than their non-disabled peers; and/or
  • reasonable steps have not been taken to avoid putting them at a disadvantage compared with non-disabled peers. 
To claim that your child has suffered disability discrimination in relation to your child’s expulsion from school, you should be able to show that the following apply:
  • the expulsion was related to your child's disability
  • the expulsion was not justified and there were other actions the school could have taken, rather than expulsion
  • the school could have taken steps to prevent the situation that led to the expulsion. 
Any disability discrimination claim should be lodged within six months from when the expulsion took place.

Read more about disability discrimination in Northern Ireland

Further help from our charity

Further help for parents trying to obtain an appropriate education for their child is available from our Education Rights Service.

Useful reading

Pastoral Care in Schools: Promoting Positive Behaviour. Department of Education (2001).

Code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. Department of Education (2005).

Contacts

Department of Education
Tel: 028 9127 9279

Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) 
Tel. 028 9072 4887

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 90 500 600

Last reviewed: 14 October 2016.