Unfortunately, a considerable number of autistic children face exclusion from school. This is a ruling that a pupil may no longer attend their school premises.
Here, we talk about what permanent exclusion from all types of maintained (or community) schools in Wales means and offer advice which may help if your child is involved in this process. We explain who has the power to exclude, the exclusion process and what to do if your child has special educational needs (SEN).
In some cases, a child or young person may be given a fixed period exclusion before reaching a permanent exclusion. The procedure for this is the same in Wales and England.
Independent schools, city academies, technology or sixth-form colleges have separate exclusions procedures. Please contact our Education Rights Service for further information.
Who has the power to exclude?
An exclusion can only be made by:
- the head teacher of a maintained school
- the teacher in charge of a pupil referral unit (PRU)
- a person acting in either of those roles.
For what reasons can a child be excluded?
Schools must have a behaviour policy explaining the circumstances in which exclusion may occur, for example:
- where there have been serious breaches of the school’s behaviour policy (including bullying)
- when 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
- punishment for the behaviour of the child's parent or carer
- to protect a child from bullying by sending them home.
A child can't be excluded because of poor academic performance.
The exclusion process
Before deciding whether to exclude any pupil, the head teacher should:
- make sure that the incident leading to exclusion has been thoroughly investigated
- review all the evidence available and consider the impact of the school’s behaviour and equal opportunities policies
- consider the Equality Act 2010
- talk to the pupil to hear their version of events
- check whether the incident may have been provoked, for example by bullying or harassment
- keep a written records of the incident and actions taken
- consult with staff members who were involved in or witnessed the incident.
When consulting with staff members it’s important that this doesn’t include 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 that the pupil did what they are accused of.
If the head teacher decides to permanently exclude a pupil, the school’s governing body discipline committee must meet to consider the exclusion.
Special educational needs (SEN)
School governing bodies have a legal duty to do their best to make sure that the necessary educational provision is made for any pupil who has SEN, this includes most autistic children.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, schools should not permanently exclude pupils with SEN, regardless of whether or not they have a statement of SEN.
In the event that a pupil with SEN is likely to be excluded, the school should examine the support in place and do everything possible to keep the pupil in school, including:
• asking the local education authority (LEA) and other professionals for advice
• requesting the LEA to carry out a statutory assessment, or reassessment if applicable
• arranging an early annual review if the child has a statement of SEN.
It may be that there is a need for further reasonable adjustments to be made.
Prescribed sequence of events
When a pupil is excluded the school must inform parents immediately, ideally by telephone. This should be followed up by letter within one school day.
The school must also notify its governing body and the LEA within one school day of the exclusion. The letter you get should state that the exclusion is permanent and include specific information, such as:
- the date of the exclusion and reasons for it
- any relevant history
- the arrangements made for your child’s education to continue
- the latest date on which the governing body discipline committee 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 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 name and telephone number of a local education authority (LEA) officer who can offer advice.
The school has an obligation to provide education while the pupil is still on their roll, which they should remain on until the appeals procedure is completed or the time for appeal has elapsed (without an appeal being lodged). Welsh Assembly guidance
states that LEA’s should make sure that all pupils receive full-time education for 15 days after being excluded. This could be either at another school or, where necessary, a PRU or other alternative provision
Writing 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 can give you the contact details for this)
- hand delivered or sent by recorded delivery
- copied to the LEA, marked for the attention of the Director of Education or your child’s case officer.
You may find this sample letter helpful:
[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 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 childs 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.
Make sure that you keep a copy of the letter.
Meeting with the governors' discipline committee
The meeting with the governors must be held within 15 school days of the exclusion. Those attending the meeting will be:
- usually three or five governors, but sometimes the whole of the governing body
- the head teacher to present the school’s case
- a LEA representative to give their comments
- a clerk to take notes and advise the governors on procedure
- any witnesses, if appropriate.
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 shouldn’t be in the room with the governors and without the parents at any time before or after the meeting.
The reasons for the exclusion are usually presented first. You should already have received any statements to read before the meeting takes place: if any late evidence is brought to the meeting, you should always be given time to read it before the meeting continues.
It is advisable to:
- take a friend or advisor for support
- write down what you want to say and any questions you have.
It is the discipline committee’s duty to consider the circumstances of the exclusion and your thoughts together with the views of your child and the LEA. They must decide to either direct your child’s reinstatement, or uphold the exclusion.
The discipline committee must inform you in writing of its decision and reasons within one school day of the hearing. They must also inform the head teacher and the LEA.
What happens if permanent exclusion is upheld?
You must be informed of your right to appeal to the Independent Appeal Panel (IAP) and the time limit for lodging such an appeal. It’s really important that you don’t miss the deadline for appealing, which is 15 school days from the date you are notified of the governors’ decision.
Your child will remain on the school roll until:
- any appeal is determined
- the time limit for making an appeal has expired
- either you or your child inform the LEA in writing that you don’t wish to appeal.
The Independent Appeal Panel
The Independent Appeal Panel (IAP) considers whether the decision of the discipline committee was reasonable. They must consider the following:
- evidence available from the original decision to permanently exclude your child
- your/your child’s representations to the governing body
- the discipline committee’s decision and reasons for reaching that decision.
An appeal to the IAP must be lodged within 15 school days of the day you are notified of the discipline committee’s decision. Your appeal should state that you are challenging the discipline committee’s decision and the grounds for your appeal.
The clerk to the IAP should liaise with you or your representative to agree a hearing date. They should inform you of the latest date by which further documentary evidence must be submitted.
The IAP may decide on one of the following three options:
- to dismiss the appeal and uphold the exclusion
- to allow the appeal and direct immediate reinstatement
- to allow the appeal, but not reinstatement of the child at the school.
Option three will usually be in used cases where there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship between the family and school.
If the exclusion is upheld, your child will be removed from the school roll and the LEA authority becomes responsible for making sure that suitable full-time education is provided for them.
If you believe that there has been ‘maladministration’ on the part of the appeal panel (that is, errors in the way the process of the appeal has been carried out), you can complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. This complaint must be made within one year of the alleged maladministration.
If you or the governing body consider that IAP’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.
Duty to provide suitable education
Welsh Assembly guidance states that schools should make sure that all pupils receive some education for the first 15 days after being excluded and LEA’s and schools should make sure excluded pupils receive full-time and appropriate education from the sixteenth day.
Schools must immediately report any permanent exclusion to the LEA responsible for schooling in the area local to the child’s home.
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