There are some ‘grey areas’ of exclusion and some unofficial exclusion practices that take place in schools. 

Informal or internal exclusion can make it hard for parents to fight for the rights of their child. In some cases, this may even be unlawful.

What are the 'grey areas' of exclusion?

The grey areas of exclusion include:

The law and processes surrounding exclusion are different depending which country you live in within the UK. 

  • Find out what you can do if your child has received a fixed term exclusion in England or Wales or has been suspended from school in Northern Ireland.
  • Find out what you can do if your child has received a permanent exclusion in England or Wales or has been expelled from school in Northern Ireland.
  • In Scotland the law is the same whether your child has been excluded on a temporary or permanent basis.

In each nation, legislation and guidance outline schools’ and authorities’ responsibilities in relation to exclusion. However, some schools and local authorities deviate from this law and guidance and bend the rules.

Why do schools deviate from the law and guidance?

Schools are becoming increasingly competitive, needing to attract parents and pupils. Most schools aim to receive a positive inspection judgement. If an autistic pupil displays behaviour that may be considered aggressive then head teachers are faced with the decision of whether or not to exclude.

Head teachers may fear the prospect of an inspection finding that this behaviour is impacting on the achievement of pupils. However, they may also consider that high levels of exclusion indicate underlying weaknesses in the school.

Head teachers need to be aware that they should not discriminate against pupils with disabilities. Schools are required to report exclusions. As a consequence, some schools use covert methods of excluding pupils in order to conceal this important information.

These methods are rarely in the best interests of the child and can have a lasting impact on their progress and well being.

Informal exclusions

Occasionally, a school may ask parents to take a pupil home "to cool off", or to keep the pupil at home without officially excluding them. This gives parents the impression that the school is being compassionate by not adding an exclusion to the pupil's school record. 
However, this practice can result in pupils losing out on their education. It can also lead to parents losing their rights in relation to challenging the head teacher's decision to exclude.

Any exclusion of a pupil, even for short periods of time, must be formally recorded and follow the correct procedure. Informal exclusions (including those lasting for an indefinite period) are unlawful, regardless of whether or not parents have agreed to them. The National Autistic Society School Exclusions Service is still receiving reports from parents of autistic children and young people who are being informally excluded.

Internal exclusions

Internal exclusions are used when the objective is to remove the pupil from class, but not from the school site, for disciplinary reasons. It may be a formal process, but it’s not legally an exclusion, so exclusion legislation and guidance don’t apply.

The primary reason for internal exclusions is to accommodate pupils who have been removed from a lesson at very short notice for disruptive behaviour. If internal exclusion is one of the disciplinary measures used by a school, this should be reflected in the school's behaviour policy.

Internal exclusion should not become:

  • a provision for long-term respite care
  • a way of avoiding meeting the needs of pupils who may need specific support 
  • a fast track to permanent exclusion.

Part-time timetable

All children of compulsory school age in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should receive full-time education, in line with legislation. Although there is no equivalent reference to full-time education in Scotland, children there should expect to receive education whilst schools are open and the same level of learning as their peers.

Despite this, our Exclusion Service often hears from families whose children have been placed on a reduced, part-time timetable. Some of these pupils have been in reception or nursery classes. The schools often justify this by saying that the child isn’t yet of compulsory school age and is not ready for school.

But it is often the school that is not ready for the child. The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils means that  schools need to think in advance about what those pupils might require and what adjustments might need to be made for them.

Parents may be able to argue (under the Equality Act 2010) that their child has been denied what might be offered to their peers, for a reason related to his or her disability. Find further information about Disability Discrimination in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is not just young children who are being placed on part-time timetables. Parents have also told us of primary and secondary schools placing autistic pupils on reduced, part-time timetables. These are not unlawful, but they should be used sparingly and in exceptional circumstances to meet the needs of an individual child, and not because a school can’t cope or lacks resources. They are a short-term solution and should have clearly specified time limits.

Managed moves

Sometimes parents and schools may agree that a fresh start in a different school would benefit a child who is at risk of exclusion. This is known as a "managed move". However, guidance in England and Wales both state that parents should not feel influenced or pressured into removing their child from school under threat of exclusion.

Guidance in Northern Ireland states that schools should not suggest that parents should transfer their child to another school, unless formal expulsion procedures have been undertaken.

In Scotland, guidance states that consideration of a host or managed move should include careful assessment and planning, involving both schools, parent, child or young person and any other agencies to determine whether this is the best course of action for the child or young person.

School trips and after school clubs

Autistic pupils who have been have been deliberately excluded from a trip can find this very upsetting.

Exclusion can generate feelings of isolation, inferiority, injustice and anger. If schools work with autistic pupils and their parents, and learn how other schools offer inclusive activities,  then every student can benefit from a trip or activity.

If pupils are excluded from trips and clubs, intentionally or otherwise, parents may have rights to make a claim against disability discrimination.

Further help from our charity

Further help for parents trying to prevent or challenge exclusion is available from our School Exclusion Service in England and Education Rights Service in the rest of the UK.

Last reviewed: 31 January 2019