Unfortunately, a considerable number of autistic children are excluded from their school. Here we look at the circumstances in which an exclusion can take place, who has the power to exclude and the exclusion process.
We also cover what parents can do if their child is excluded and the duty of local authorities.
Please note that this information is not applicable if your child attends an independent school, a technology college or a sixth-form college. For advice please contact our Education Rights Service.
We also have advice on permanent exclusions in Wales and fixed-period exclusions in England and Wales.
When can an exclusion take place and who has the power to exclude?
Schools must have a behaviour policy explaining the circumstances in which exclusion (a ruling that a child may no longer attend a particular school’s premises) may occur. A permanent exclusion can only be given:
- in response to a serious breach, or persistent breaches, of the school's behaviour policy and
- where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.
Exclusion is not suitable for minor breaches of school rules, such as:
- failure to complete homework
- lateness or truancy
- breaches of school uniform rules.
In addition to this, a child can't be excluded because of poor academic performance.
An exclusion can only be made by:
- the head teacher of a maintained school or an academy
- the teacher in charge of a pupil referral unit (PRU)
- a person acting in either of the above roles.
The exclusion process
Before deciding whether to exclude a pupil, the head teacher should:
- make sure that an appropriate investigation has been carried out
- consider all the evidence available, taking into account the school’s behaviour and equal opportunities policies and, if applicable, the Equality Act 2010
- where practical, talk to the pupil to hear their version of events
- check whether the incident may have been provoked, for example by bullying or by racial or sexual harassment
- if necessary consult others – but not anyone who may later have a role in reviewing the head teacher’s decision, such as a member of the governors’ discipline committee.
A child can only be excluded after the head teacher has taken the steps above, and is satisfied on the balance of probabilities (it's more likely than not) that the pupil did what they are accused of.
If the head teacher decides to permanently exclude a child, the school’s governing body must meet to consider the head teacher's decision within 15 school days of receiving notice of the exclusion.
Prescribed sequence of events
Whenever a head teacher excludes a pupil they must, without delay, notify the parents of the exclusion and the reason for it. The school must also notify its governing body and the local authority without delay. The letter parents are sent should state that the exclusion is permanent and include specific information such as:
- the date the exclusion takes effect and any relevant previous history
- the reasons for the exclusion
- your right to make representations about the exclusion to the governing body and how the pupil may be involved in this
- the latest date on which the governing body can meet to consider the exclusion (no later than 15 school days from the date when the governing body was notified of the exclusion)
- an explanation that you have the right to see/have a copy of your child’s school record upon written request, and the right to state your case in writing to the governing body, or by attending the meeting where the exclusion is to be considered
- the person(s) you should contact (eg the chair of the school’s governing body) if you wish to write, attend the meeting or request your child’s school record
- the arrangements made for your child’s education to continue
- details of the statutory guidance and regulations on exclusions
- details of the Coram Children’s Legal Centre.
Arrangements should be made for your child to continue their education, including setting and marking school work. For the first five days of a permanent exclusion the school is responsible for arranging education.
The local authority is responsible for providing full-time education from the sixth day of a permanent exclusion. This will be the pupil’s ‘home authority’ in cases where the school is maintained by (or located within) a different local authority.
Special educational needs
School governing bodies have a legal duty to do their best to make sure that the necessary educational provision is made for pupils with special educational needs. Most academies have similar requirements as part of their ‘funding agreement’. Generally, children and young people who are on the autism spectrum are considered to have special educational needs.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, schools should not permanently exclude pupils with special educational needs, whether they have an education, health and care (EHC) plan or not.
If it seems likely that a pupil with special educational needs is at risk of being excluded, the school should work in partnership with others (including the local authority as necessary), to consider what additional support or alternative placement may be needed. This should involve, for example:
What parents can do if their child is permanently excluded
Write to the governors
As a parent, you have the right to put your case in person and/or in writing to the governing body of your child’s school. You should write to the governing body if you want to state your case in person. The letter should be:
- addressed personally to the chair of the governing body (the school, your local council offices, library or Citizen’s Advice Bureau should be able to give you the name and address of the chair of the governing body)
- hand delivered or sent by recorded delivery
- copied to the local authority (Director of Education or Case Officer).
Keep a copy of your correspondence. The sample letter below may be helpful to you.
[Name of Chair of Governors]
Chair of Governors
[Name of your childs school]
[Address of school]
Dear [Name of Chair of Governors]
Your child’s name and date of birth
My child has been permanently excluded from school and I would like to state my case in person to the governors.
Please send me copies of my child’s school record, the school’s behaviour/discipline and special educational needs policies, together with any witness statements, including my child’s statement.
I would like to bring a friend or adviser to the meeting with me and look forward to hearing from you regarding a suitable date for us to meet.
Meet with the governors
The meeting with the governors must be held within 15 school days of the exclusion. Those attending the meeting will be:
- usually three to five governors, but sometimes the whole of the governing body (none of the governors attending should have any involvement that could make them biased, eg a teacher or parent governor with a personal interest)
- the head teacher to present the school’s case
- a local authority representative to give their comments
- a clerk to take notes and advise the governors on procedure
- any witnesses, if appropriate.
The head teacher should not remain in the room at any time with the governors before or after the meeting unless you are present.
The reasons for the exclusion are usually presented first. Any written evidence and information should be circulated to all parties at least five school days prior to the meeting. You should always be given time to read any late evidence that may be brought to the meeting before it begins.
It is advisable for you to:
- take a friend or adviser for support during the meeting
- write down what you want to say and read it out
- write down any questions you may want to ask and tick them off as the meeting progresses.
It is the governors’ duty to ensure that all parties are supported to participate in their consideration and to have their views heard. This is particularly important if your child is under 18 and speaking about their own exclusion or giving evidence to the governing body.
The governors should ensure that clear minutes are taken of the meeting and that these are available to all parties on request.
The governors must consider the circumstances of the exclusion, the views of the local authority, your views and those of your child (if they have participated in the meeting). They must also have regard to the interests of other pupils and people working at the school. A decision should be made to either reinstate your child or uphold the teacher's decision to exclude.
The governing body must inform you in writing of its decision and reasons without delay. They must also inform the head teacher and the local authority.
The process if a permanent exclusion is upheld
If a permanent exclusion is upheld by the governing body, you must be informed of your right to ask for the decision to be reviewed by an Independent Review Panel (IRP).
You should also be informed of:
- the time limit for requesting a review (that is within 15 school days of the date you are notified of the governors’ decision)
- the name and address to whom an application for a review should be sent
- that any application for review should set out the grounds on which it is being requested – this should include a reference of how your child’s special educational needs are considered relevant to the exclusion
- your right (regardless of whether your child has recognised special educational needs) for an SEN expert to attend the review
- details of the role of the SEN expert and that there is no cost to you for their appointment
- that you must make it clear if you would like an SEN expert to be appointed
- that you may, at your own expense, appoint someone to make written and/or oral representations to that panel and that you may also take a friend or supporter to the review.
Your child will remain on the school roll until any review is determined, or the time limit for requesting a review has expired, or until you inform the local authority in writing that you do not want to apply to the Independent Review Panel.
The Independent Review Panel
The local authority (or Academy Trust for academy schools) must appoint a panel of either three or five members, one of which must be a lay member.
All panel members must have received training within the previous two years covering:
- legislation, regulations and statutory guidance governing exclusions
- the need to observe procedural fairness and the rules of natural justice
- the role of the chair and the role of the clerk to a review panel
- the duties of head teachers and governing bodies under the Equality Act 2010
- the need to act in a manner compatible with the Human Rights Act
The role of the panel is to review the governing body’s decision not to reinstate your child. Following its review the panel can decide to:
- uphold the exclusion decision
- recommend that the governing body reconsiders its decision
- quash the decision and direct that the governing body considers the exclusion again.
The IRP’s decision is binding on you, your child, the governing body, the head teacher, the local authority and, in the case of an academy, the Academy Trust.
If you believe that there has been ‘maladministration’ on the part of the review panel (that is, errors in the way the process of the appeal has been carried out), you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. This complaint must be made within one year of the alleged maladministration.
If you or the governing body consider that IRP’s decision is flawed, then you or they may apply to the High Court for a judicial review no later than three months from the date of the decision. We advise parents to consult a solicitor when considering judicial review procedures.
If you believe that the exclusion has occurred as a result of disability discrimination, you may claim under the Equality Act 2010 to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). The First-tier Tribunal has the power to order that your child is reinstated into the school. The claim must be lodged within six months of the day on which the pupil was excluded.
If you request it, the local authority or Academy Trust (if your child has been permanently excluded from an academy) must appoint an SEN expert to attend the review panel.
You have the right to ask for an SEN expert to attend the IRP meeting, regardless of whether the school recognises that your child has special educational needs.
A person can't serve as an SEN expert if they have had any connection with the local authority, Academy Trust, school, you, or your child, or the incident leading to the exclusion.
The SEN expert’s role is to provide impartial advice on how special educational needs might be relevant to the exclusion.
The focus of the advice should be on whether the school’s SEN policies were legal, reasonable and fair.
The SEN expert should advise the panel on whether they believe the school acted in a legal, reasonable and procedurally fair way in respect to the identification of any special educational needs that your child might have, and any contribution this could have made to the circumstances of your child’s exclusion.
Duty to provide suitable education
Local authorities are required to provide full-time education from the sixth day of a permanent exclusion. Schools are responsible for setting and marking work for the first five days.
Schools must inform the appropriate local authority immediately of each permanent exclusion so that arrangements can be put into place.
Useful documents and reading
Exclusion from maintained schools, Academies and pupil referral units in England. Department for Education (2012).
Further help from our charity
School Exclusions Service
Education Rights Service
Last reviewed: 17 March 2017.