The Facts About Pupil Exclusions

Reading time: 3
Pupils Exclusions


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

How can we reduce ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ in our young people?

A variety of people in the education world have offered different thoughts as to what might have caused the recent increase in exclusions. The reality is that many factors have contributed to the situation…

Five facts about exclusion

Here are some facts you may or may not know about the exclusions landscape in our English schools.

  1. From 2006 to 2013, overall exclusions decreased, but they began rising again in 2013. Since then, they have increased every year, and there was a 40 per cent rise between 2013 and 2017. The main reason for exclusion, in general, is persistent disruptive behaviour.
  2. From 2016 to 2017, students who had SEN, were classified as ‘in need’ or were eligible for free school meals accounted for 78 per cent of all permanent exclusions. That’s a significant majority of vulnerable students.
  3. In 2015–16, only seven per cent of Key Stage 4 students who were permanently excluded and 18 per cent of those who received multiple fixed exclusions went on to achieve good passes in English and maths GCSEs.
  4. Although the exclusion rate remains low – the latest government figures show the exclusion rate for 2016 to 2017 was 0.1 per cent of all student enrolments.
  5. In special schools, the most common reason for exclusion (2016/17) was a physical assault against an adult.

Possible reasons for exclusion…

Whenever we talk about exclusions, it’s also important that we mention those who benefit from certain children being removed from the school: the other 29 or so children in the class whose lessons can be significantly less disrupted and whose learning can be much better without the distractions. With progress 8, the EBacc curriculum, off-rolling and now Ofsted’s focus on curriculum dominating proceedings, we all must do better.

Often vocational subjects are used to support the most hard-to-reach students who are most at risk of exclusion. There is much research evidence supporting this approach. One study led by the UCL Institute of Education, for example, examined the effectiveness of alternative provision (AP) in a London local authority. The researchers interviewed 14- to 19-year-olds in AP and found that ‘the majority’ of these young people stated that the main reason they had become ‘disaffected’ with education in mainstream school was the ‘type of subjects on offer’. Over recent years, there has been a significant reduction in support services such as behaviour support teams, specialist tutors and organisations like Connexions.

Is the funding crisis to blame for an increase in exclusions?

People connected to the government, currently, will deny that funding cuts have had anything to do with the rise of exclusions, although in reality, it may be a contributing factor, curriculum choices, social media and increased mental health will all be dominant forces which schools now face… Regardless of the reasons for it, permanent exclusion has huge implications – the biggest of which are for the child. Many excluded children feel angry about their exclusion and let down by their school and teachers.

The ‘Who’s Left?’ research by Education Datalab also suggests outcomes for students who leave a school’s roll are very poor, with ‘only around 1 per cent of children who leave to state alternative provision or a special school […] achieving five good GCSEs’. Clearly, exclusions are sometimes necessary to protect or help a child, the other children they learn with and the teachers who teach them, but we also know that it may have a huge and potentially very negative impact on the child who has been excluded.

We can also dig into the demographics (the regions of England) and diversity and gender analysis to unpick which of our young people are struggling more than most, but I’ll leave my short analysis as it is for now. What I’d be keen to learn is, if the 5,470 White British pupils excluded are proportionate to pupil population when compared to other pupil groups; the Timpson review (2019) revealed the black Caribbean pupils are 1.7 times more likely to be permanently excluded.

If you’re interested in more of my research and possible solutions, you can find more in Just Great Teaching.

Exclusion should only be a last resort when all other options have been exhausted, and we must, therefore, do all we can to minimise the number of exclusions in our schools…


  1. Department for Education, 2018h
  2. Department for Education, 2019e
  3. Gill et al., 2017
  4. Cajic-Seigneur and Hodgson, 2016
  5. Nye, 2017
  6. Nye and Thomson, 2019

8 thoughts on “The Facts About Pupil Exclusions

  1. It is said that all we do is behave and that our behaviour is driven by need. A problem-solver may ask then what it is that drives the behaviour of these students who get excluded from school, what is the need?

    The most powerful driver of behaviour is the need to belong. Belonging is but one of four key drivers in teaching and learning and with the other three form the culture of schools. In schools, we know this and have seen it through actions resulting from peer pressure and from behaviour that asks to be noticed or acknowledged. Where the school culture does not acknowledge this or is distorted by other powerful drivers, we introduce conflict and stress. The result is a toxic learning environment.

    The agency of the individual to respond to this school environment very much characterises the response to these four needs need as does their past experience and success. Where there is limited agency, ability or even opportunity to express needs then we see a response which can be characterised by “exit” strategies. These include non-compliance (both outward and inward), anti-social behavioural outbursts, authority relationship challenges and an unwillingness to attend school amongst others.

    We should see behaviour as a symptom of need and respond accordingly. We should examine the school culture in terms of meeting the four teaching and learning needs and we should work at developing agency as well as plan to meet these four needs.

    This ‘truth’ has become clear from my teaching career experiences and my research in preparing to write “If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them” to be published this year.

  2. I think we need more quality teachers with the time to spend with these kids. It all starts with education. Lets hope the extra spending promised with this new parliament will address the situation – at least it will be a start in the right direction.

    1. Yes, the Early Careers Framework may help, but it’s not enough cash. Personally, I think we already have sufficient good teachers. They are simply stretched to the core and have insufficient time to do anything well.

      1. Learning when and how to say “No” is an important part of being a teacher. The article I recently wrote for the book “What they didn’t teach me on my PGCE” (Sarah Mullin 2020) starts with “Teaching is a ‘full-on’ activity. It makes emotional and physical demands on us, but we are rewarded by the energy that comes from building learning relationships and when kids ‘get it’. Getting the balance right is so important and learning to say no is the first step in getting that balance right. The article concludes with 4 questions we should ask ourselves before taking on additional work or responsibilities. The first of these is “Am I the best person to be doing this?” and honesty is the best policy here 🙂

    2. Doesn’t it actually begin with parenting? Poor parenting allows pupils to feel entitled… it’s the parents job to install discipline into their child because teachers hands have been tied. The teacher also has an obligation to teach the other children in the class and often cannot, because of one or two poorly behaved students. Teachers are not social workers… they are there to advance the learning of pupils in their class

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.