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Why Are So Many Children Being Excluded?

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Nearly 4000 children were permanently excluded from school in the 2020/2021 school year. In addition to this, over 350,000 children were suspended or experienced a fixed-term exclusion. Although the number of permanent exclusions is less than the previous year, it still appears that some schools are having to resort to the most serious sanction but why? As of the 20/21 year, up to 3 reasons can be recorded when a permanent exclusion is made and I've dug into some of the data to analyse why so many children are being permanently excluded from their education.

empty classroom after exclusion

Persistent Disruptive Behaviour

This reason accounted for nearly 40% of all exclusions issued and a vast majority of those excluded for this reason came from state secondary schools. Anyone who has worked in an education setting knows that disruptive behaviour can be not only challenging to manage but it can also disrupt the learning of others.

This behaviour could include refusal to do work, bad language, walking out of class, shouting out etc.

Sometimes, students will respond to behaviour management techniques but there are students who don't respond to them and continue to be disruptive all day, every day. What we have to remember is that behaviour is communication and it may also be indicative of underlying SEN or SEMH needs.

Physical Assault Against a Pupil

878 pupils were excluded for physically assaulting a pupil. This could have been a one off incident such a fight in the playground or a sustained and premeditated assault against another pupil, i.e. physical bullying. Children may resort to physical violence for a number of different reasons;

  • Mistaking power for respect. In trying to command the respect of their peers, they often resort to methods of abuse and violence.

  • Imitating 'cool behaviour' - Their young minds do not always perceive the boundaries between real and imaginary. In trying to emulate on-screen heroes, children can resort to violent acts.

  • Reenacting behaviour seen at home. This could be a sign of abuse or violence in the home which should be reported to a safeguarding lead.

  • Children who have been victims of teasing or ridicule may resort to violence. They feel it gives them power and hides the negativity they faced.

It is often down to the Headteacher to decide how serious an assault is and what sanction is appropriate however, there should be one principle governing their decision. Every child has the right to feel safe at school. If a child feels unsafe in school or is seriously assaulted, then the most serious sanctions may need to be taken against the aggressor.

Physical Assault or Threatening Behaviour Against an Adult

Combined, 1132 pupils were excluded for either physically assaulting or persistently threatening an adult, most likely a member of staff. As we have already mentioned, there are many potential reasons as to why a child may resort to violence in school but teachers and support staff should also be aware of potential underlying SEN conditions which can be linked with increased aggression or challenging behaviour.

We have all seen the increase in teachers leaving the profession over the last few years, and some of the reasons as to why teachers are leaving is due to behaviour. With this amount of permanent exclusions due to assaults against adults, that is a lot of staff getting hurt. The impact of this should not be underestimated.

When staff feel unsafe or have been physically threatened in the workplace, they will undoubtedly have higher levels of stress and over time may need to take more time off because of the psychological impact. High stress levels also lead to physical illness as long-term exposure to stress hormones can impact the body's immune system.

Why Are Exclusion Numbers So High?

We've already touched on some reasons as to why students may display challenging behaviour in the classroom which can then lead them to being permanently excluded. Let's explore some common ones in more detail.

Special Educational Needs

Nearly half of all students excluded had some form of SEN, most commonly Autism, ADHD or SEMH. If a child's needs are not met, or if staff do not have a clear understanding of a child's needs and their condition, then undoubtedly these children will be frustrated, upset and struggling which can often be communicated in behaviour.

Some schools have additional resource provisions (ARP's) which can cater for children with more complex needs in a specialist setting where staff are well trained and can provide more specialist and individualised support. However, these ARP's and schools can be hard to access, with many being way over subscribed and so thousands of pupils remain in mainstream classes where there is not the manpower or thorough understanding in order for their needs to be met along with those of 25+ other students.


Schools are under immense pressure for students to perform well in national testing. The 'one size fits all' approach that some schools are under pressure to implement can lead to devastating impacts on children's well-being and mental health if they are expected to all perform well in national testing.

Again, students with SEN, will be put under a spotlight and some children may 'act out' to disguise the fact they are finding the work too complicated or challenging. Usually, classrooms would be graced by a Teaching Assistant who could support pupils on a 1:1 or small group basis but sadly, school budgets have been slashed and many TA's have been made redundant. Not only do TA's support with academic work, but they are also able to assist with behavioural interventions and prevent disruption rising in the class as a whole, ensuring that every child is in the optimum environment to learn.


Students who are entitled to Free School Meals (FSM) are up to 4 times more likely to be excluded. Again, many of these children are not having their most basic needs met at home so whilst others are flourishing in class, these children are concerned about things that are way beyond their young years.

Some may struggle to concentrate because they did not have dinner or breakfast and they're experiencing brain fog from a lack of nutrition. Some may be dealing with the consequences of a difficult home environment, where Adverse Childhood Experiences are rife. Many of the services that would have supported such families have seen significant cuts (or closed completely, as in the case of many Sure Start centres) in the last ten years.

To sum up;

‘Exclusion rates have risen in recent years because of cuts to both education and local services which have made it more difficult to provide early intervention and support to children with challenging behaviour.’

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