Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Children with SEN being illegally excluded from school, report finds

Childrens CommissionerHundreds of children with statements of special educational needs (SEN) are being sent home from school illegally when support for them is not available, a report has found.

The report, Always Someone Else’s Problem, by Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England, found that 2.7% of schools have sent children with statements of SEN home when their carer, classroom support or teaching assistant is unavailable.

If these were evenly spread across the country, it would represent 650 schools, or an average of more than four schools in every local authority, the report added.

School Exclusions Inquiry


The report includes the findings of the School Exclusions Inquiry. This included 8 months evidence gathering from the Government, local authorities, Ofsted, Mencap and other organisations, and from visiting schools across England.

Other common forms of illegal exclusion included:

• Failing to follow proper procedures to record exclusions. These exclusions are usually for short periods, but they may be frequently repeated with the same child, causing them to miss substantial periods of education
• Placing pupils on ‘extended study leave’, on part-time timetables, or at inappropriate and questionable quality ‘alternative provision’, as a way of removing them from school
• Coercing parents into moving their child to a different school, or expecting them to ‘educate them at home’, under threat of permanent exclusion
• Encouraging children to stay at home rather than attend school.

The reasons for such exclusions included ignorance of the law on exclusions, no public body – with the partial exception of Ofsted – doing enough to identify and reduce it and the lack of meaningful sanctions against illegal exclusions.

“The decision about whether to exclude a pupil is always a tough call but schools must make sure they remain within the law when doing so,” said Atkinson. “We recognise that some pupils can be very disruptive and that it may be necessary to exclude them but doing so can also have a hugely negative effect on the young person and an on-going cost to society in later life as disrupting education is likely to make them less employable.

“We found that most schools are doing well and staying within the law but there are also areas for concern and improvement.

“Everyone working in education needs to pay closer attention to the issue of illegal exclusions and consider the implications it has on the individual child, as well as the impact their behaviour has on fellow pupils. We are not saying ‘never exclude’ but ‘do your very best not to and if you must, do so within the law’. Asking the parents of a disabled child to repeatedly take them home early simply due to a lack of support is unacceptable.”

Elizabeth Archer, national strategic lead for children and young people at Mencap, said the results of the survey were “horrifying”:

“It is truly horrifying that hundreds of schools have sent children home with no record of it in the past year. These illegal exclusions directly impact on how well a child develops and learns, which can ultimately restrict the choices they can make in their lives.

“The school system is failing to equip teachers for the reality of teaching a class where one in five pupils has additional needs. Because of this, teachers are failing in their duty, and this is something that must be put right through improved teacher training and education.”

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