Autistic pupils are statistically more likely to be excluded from school than those without special educational needs (SEN). Here we look at the circumstances in which a permanent 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, the duty of local authorities and what to do if you think the exclusion amounts to disability discrimination.

Please note that this information is not applicable if your child attends an independent school, a technology college or a sixth-form college all of which have separate exclusion procedures and must be compliant with equality legislation. For advice please contact our School Exclusions Service.

We also have advice on fixed-period exclusions in England.

When can an exclusion take place and who has the power to exclude?

Exclusions must only be given for disciplinary reasons. A permanent exclusion should 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 must not be excluded because of poor academic performance  or because they have a disability or additional needs that the school feels it is unable to meet.

A recent ruling makes clear for the first time that all schools must make sure they have made appropriate reasonable adjustments for autistic children, or those with other disabilities, before they can resort to exclusion.

A loophole in the Equality Act meant schools didn’t have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children when they had a 'tendency to physical abuse' - even when that behaviour was caused by a lack of appropriate support.

However, this loophole no longer applies which means that children cannot be excluded for behaviour that is linked to being autistic, if no steps had been taken to put the right support in place.

When considering whether to exclude an autistic pupil, head teachers will need to ensure that reasonable adjustments (positive steps, changes in policy, practice and strategies) were in place to make sure that the pupil was able to fully participate in the education and other aspects of school life.

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 policy and, if applicable, the requirements of 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, or whether there were any other contributing factors, such as bereavement or mental health issues
  • 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 must include specific information including: 

  • the date the exclusion takes effect
  • 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 (for permanent exclusions, 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 (for example 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
  • the responsibility of parents to ensure that, during the first five days of an exclusion, their child isn’t present in a public place during school hours
  • details of the statutory guidance on exclusions
  • details of  the Coram Children’s Legal Centre, who run the Child Law Advice Service funded by the Department for Education, providing information and advice on education law. Also, where relevant, information about the National Autistic Society School Exclusion Service.

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’. Although some autistic pupils progress well at school without specific support, generally autistic children and young people are considered to have special educational needs.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with special educational needs, who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

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:

Our Education Rights Service can offer advice on EHC plans and reviews. 

If the school have not at least considered the steps above, it is unlikely that the head teacher would be able to argue that permanent exclusion has been used as a ‘last resort’.

What parents can do if their child is permanently excluded

Write to the governors

Parents must be invited to the meeting where the governors would consider the head teacher’s decision to permanently exclude their child. If parents wish to attend, they should write to the governing body.

The letter should be:

  • addressed personally to the chair of the governing body (details should have been provided in the exclusion letter from the head teacher, but the school, your local council offices, library or Citizen’s Advice Bureau should also 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.

[Your address]

[Name of Chair of Governors]
Chair of Governors
[Name of your child’s school]
[Address of school]

Date

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.

Yours sincerely
[Signature]

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, often called the governors’ discipline committee (GDC) (none of the governors attending should have any involvement that could make them biased, for example 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.

If parents would like to submit written representation, these should also be emailed/delivered to the chair of governors at least five days before the meeting. If necessary, parents or governors can request an adjournment to the meeting to allow time to read any late evidence, but the governing board must consider the head teacher’s decision to permanently exclude within 15 school days of receiving notice of the exclusion.

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, or submit it in advance of the meeting for governors to read
  • write down any questions you may want to ask and tick them off as the meeting progresses. 

You may also want to consider our additional suggestions for working together and resolving differences with your child’s school or authority. 

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 the governors decide that the head teacher was justified in permanently excluding your child, 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)
  • of 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 to how your child’s special educational needs are considered relevant to the exclusion
  • of your right (regardless of whether your child has recognised special educational needs) for an SEN expert to attend the review
  • of details of the role of the SEN expert and confirmation 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, that is, someone who has never worked in a school in a paid capacity.

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 governing board’s 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. Searching our Autism Services Directory may help you find an appropriate representative.

SEN experts

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.

Disability discrimination

If you believe that the exclusion amounts to 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. As your claim relates to permanent exclusion, the Tribunal will aim to fast-track your claim (in other words, reach a decision in no more than six weeks).  

For more information on how to make a claim please read our Navigating exclusion appeals to the First-tier (SEND) tribunal guide.

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. Section 7 of the Education Act of 1996 states that any alternative provision that is arranged must be suitable for your child’s age, ability/aptitude and any special educational needs they might have.

Useful documents and reading

Exclusion from maintained schools, Academies and pupil referral units in England. Department for Education (2017).

Further help from our charity

Further help for parents trying to prevent or challenge absence and exclusion is available from our School Exclusion Service.

Last reviewed: 31 January 2019.