When a child or young person is removed from their school for a fixed period of time or permanently, it is called an exclusion. If this happens, you and your child have certain rights. 

Here we talk about different types of exclusion, the reasons why a child or young person might be excluded, their right to an education whilst they are not is school and how you can appeal against an exclusion. We also look at disability discrimination and what should happen before your child returns to school.  

About exclusion

What is an exclusion?

The law states that a school or local authority can tell a pupil they can't attend school if:

  • their parent is not following school rules, or is not allowing their child to follow them 
  • by staying in school the pupil would affect the school's order and discipline, or the other pupils' educational well-being.
This may be because:
  • of a pupil's behaviour
  • an incident has taken place
  • a staff member who works with your child is unavailable
  • of health and safety reasons.

If you are told that your child can't attend school, they have been excluded.

The school or local authority may use other terms, such as expulsion, cooling-off period or sending a pupil home. No matter what term is used, you should consider your child excluded from school.

All exclusions should be formally recorded and set procedures followed.

What is an informal exclusion?

Your child's school may tell you that your child has been informally excluded, or they may ask you to pick your child up from school without recording it as a formal exclusion. 

You may think this is in your child's best interests and may not want it recorded on their pupil record.

However, the school should be recording the exclusion, no matter what the reason behind it is. You may not be able to appeal the decision to exclude your child if it is not recorded.

If the school does try to exclude your child informally without recording it, let them know that:

  • they should not be excluding your child in this way
  • any exclusion should be formally recorded
  • you're not prepared to pick your child up from school or accept them home.

How long will my child be excluded for?

This will depend on where you live as your local authority decides how long a child is excluded for. The length of the exclusion should be proportionate and take individual circumstances into consideration.

Guidance from the Scottish Government says that exclusion should:

  • only be used as a last resort
  • be a proportionate response where there is no appropriate alternative and the child or young person’s wellbeing should be the key consideration
  • be for as short a period as possible with the aim of improving outcomes for the child or young person
  • be used constructively (during and after) to resolve the situation and ensure positive and appropriate support is in place for everyone involved.

If you would like more information on how long a pupil may be excluded for, contact your child's school or local authority directly.

The law says a pupil can be excluded for two reasons. However, the guidance says that schools should try to avoid excluding pupils and look at other ways of achieving a similar aim. Exclusion should always be a last resort and before excluding a pupil the school or local authority should consider:

  • whether the exclusion will lead to improved outcomes for the child or young person
  • whether all types of targeted support have been explored and exhausted
  • the views of the child or young person, their parents, and any relevant professionals
  • whether appropriate provision can be made to meet the child or young person’s additional support needs during the period of exclusion.  

Scottish Government guidance states that school staff should also recognise that all behaviour is a form of communication and try to identify the triggers that may lead to a child or young person acting in a challenging and distressed way.

What happens when a pupil is excluded?

The school or local authority must contact you on the same day of an exclusion with details of:

  • the exclusion 
  • a time and place for you to speak to a staff member.
You should also be told:

  • why your child was excluded 
  • that you can appeal against the exclusion 
  • how to appeal.
Your child's school may send you other information, such as an action plan to help prepare your child for returning to school, which also sets out the conditions for their return.

What will happen to my child's education during the exclusion?

If a school or local authority excludes your child, they must still provide them with an education. This must be done without delay and, according to Scottish Government guidance, it should be expected after three days.  

Your child may then be educated in:

  • another school 
  • another setting (eg a community centre or a library) 
  • another format (eg homework with regular telephone or email contact with a relevant member of staff or virtual learning).

The education your child receives should be of a similar standard of that they received before they were excluded.

What do I do if my child is not receiving alternative education?

If your child's school is not providing any education while they are excluded, contact the school or your local authority. If you are not happy with their response then contact our Education Rights Service.

Appeal procedure

How can I appeal against my child's exclusion?

If your child has been excluded you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by an education appeal committee. Children aged 12 and over who are deemed to have capacity also have this right themselves.

You should receive details about how to make an appeal from your child's school. If you have not received this information, contact the school or your local authority.

What happens if the appeal is successful? 

If the appeal is successful and the education appeal committee overturns the exclusion, your child can return to school (if they haven’t already done so).  

The time your child was absent from school will be formally recorded on their pupil record as an authorised absence.

What if the appeal is unsuccessful?

If your appeal against your child's exclusion is unsuccessful, you may have a further right of appeal to the Sheriff. This must be submitted within 28 days of receiving the education appeal committee's decision. 

What if my child is excluded more than once?

Exclusion should always be a last resort. If your child has been excluded on more than one occasion, especially as a result of their behaviour, then question if the right support is in place. 

Guidance states that multiple exclusions should highlight to the school that the support currently provided is not working and they should seek additional support for the child.

If your child has been excluded for the way they behave, it’s important to think about what led up to that behaviour. Many autistic children and young people experience anxiety or stress in the school environment.  They may have sensory differences that are triggering certain behaviours. 

Consider if their needs being fully addressed and supported and discuss your concerns with the school or local authority.

If you are not happy with their response our Education Rights Service can advise on further action that you may be able to take.

My child has additional support needs

Your child may still be excluded if they have additional support needs. However, the impact exclusion will have on your child and your family should be considered. 

The school or local authority must also make sure that your child still receives the support they needs including any therapies mentioned in education plans, such as a co-ordinated support plan

Disability discrimination

If your child has a disability and you feel that they were excluded for reasons relating to this, there is other action that you may be able to take. For advice, telephone the Equality Advisory Support Service.

Read more about disability discrimination in Great Britain

Returning to school after an exclusion

Before returning to school you and your child may be invited to attend a meeting to discuss their return, what support they may need and ways to help repair and restore relationships and trust.

There is no legal requirement to hold pre-return meetings or for the school to seek guarantees or contracts of behaviour with you and your child before their return to school.

Your child's school or your local authority should be able to offer further details on what happens in your area.

Ongoing support and monitoring should be provided to ensure that your child’s learning and wellbeing needs continue to be met.

Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved

In autumn 2018 we worked in partnership with Children in Scotland and Scottish Autism to publish a report on the experiences of autistic children missing school. The report is titled Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved.

More than a third (34%) of parents who responded to the survey we conducted as part of this report said that their children had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years – with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week.

An ‘unlawful’ exclusion is when a school sends a child home without using the formal exclusion process, meaning monitoring and support systems are bypassed. Scottish Government guidance is clear on its position that unlawful exclusions should not happen – yet our research shows that they are happening to autistic children across Scotland.

You can read our findings and recommendations to Scottish Government here.

We are committed to campaigning to ensure that these recommendations are met. This is a live campaign so please follow our Facebook page to find out more!

Further help from our charity

The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service can provide information, support and advice on educational provision and entitlements for children and young people on the autism spectrum.

Useful reading

Included, engaged and involved part 2: a positive approach to managing and preventing school exclusions. Scottish Government (2017). 

Autism toolbox. A resource for Scottish schools. Scottish Government.


Last reviewed: 19 March 2019.