Photo of young boy with a backpack, arriving at a school

The Government has today published a long-awaited review of school exclusions in England. The independent report looks at why particular groups of children, including children with special educational needs (SEND), are more likely than others to be excluded from school and makes recommendations on what needs to change. The Government has published its own response at the same time.

This review was carried out by former MP and education minister Edward Timpson, who has made 30 separate recommendations to the Government on how exclusions can be reduced and better managed. Timpson received nearly a thousand pieces of evidence, including a detailed submission from the National Autistic Society.

The report highlights the large number of children who are excluded from school who have SEND – these children make up 47% of all permanent exclusions, and 45% of all fixed-period exclusions. Children on the autism spectrum are three times more likely to be excluded from school than children without special educational needs.

Read the review

Impact of exclusions

Timpson is concerned about the impact that repeated fixed-period exclusions have on a child’s education, and recommends a reduction in the current 45-day limit on the number of fixed-period exclusions a pupil can have in a single year. The Government says it will consult further on this. It will also consult on the recommendation that schools should continue to be responsible for the outcomes of pupils who they decide to permanently exclude, and will set out plans in the autumn to improve alternative provision for pupils who have been permanently excluded from school.

Ministers have made it clear that schools will still have the power to exclude pupils when necessary, but that permanent exclusion should always be a last resort. They expect all schools in a local area to work with each other, and with the local authority, to ensure that every child in an area has a school place that meets their needs.

The Government has confirmed that it will rewrite guidance on managing behaviour and the circumstances in which exclusion should be used – including the use of isolation units and support for children with SEND.

Behaviour policies

We believe that any discussion of behaviour in school must recognise that autistic children’s behaviour is affected by the support they receive – or don’t receive. It is essential that autism is well understood in schools, and that children receive the help they need. The Timpson review is clear that support for children with SEND should be provided at an early stage, as set out in the SEND Code of Practice.

Last year the Upper Tribunal delivered a landmark judgment that schools must make sure they have made any necessary adjustments for autistic children, or children with other disabilities, before they resort to exclusion.

Our reaction

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs and Social Change, said:

Exclusions can have a devastating impact on an autistic child. We hear awful stories of children who spend months, even years, out of education and lose all faith in the system and themselves.

“Today’s report is welcome recognition of this unacceptable situation. The Government’s own figures show that children on the autism spectrum are three times more likely to be formally excluded than children without special educational needs. On top of this, others face being informally excluded or off-rolled. This is unlawful and must stop.

“School can be an overwhelming place for autistic children – things like bright lights, sudden noises, unclear instructions or other children’s unpredictable behaviour can trigger extreme levels of anxiety. This can lead to behaviour that seems naughty or disruptive but is actually an indication that they are overwhelmed, anxious or distressed.

“This has to change. As today’s report says, schools and councils must work together to make sure there is better support to avoid exclusions. For autistic children, this means making changes to behaviour policies, and ensuring that all school staff understand autism. This must be built on the right range of schools – mainstream and specialist – being available in every area. Far too many families face long legal battles to get the support their children need, whether within a specialist school or in mainstream.”

Further information

The National Autistic Society provides a School Exclusions Service, which offers specialist advice and information to parents of children and young people on the autism spectrum who have been excluded from school in England, or who are at risk of exclusion.

We also advise education professionals on early intervention strategies and ways to ensure that children on the autism spectrum are fully included at school, so that exclusion is avoided. These include:

  • recognising that disruptive behaviour can be an indication of a child’s unmet needs
  • providing autism training to school staff
  • making reasonable adjustments to the school environment
  • making reasonable adjustments to school policies, such as behaviour policies.