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

Pupils with SEND more likely to be suspended from school

Children with special education needs or disabilities (SEND) are three times as likely to be suspended multiple times from school, according to a report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The report, examined the relationship between the number of suspensions, or temporary removals from school, in secondary school and outcomes for pupils in England. It studied a cohort of 585,827 pupils who were registered in a state school in year 7 in 2014, following their time through secondary school until they sat their GCSE exams in 2019.

It found that of all SEND types, social, emotional, or mental health needs (SEMH) were the most common amongst suspended pupils. The proportion of pupils identified with SEND also increased with an increasing number of suspensions. In fact, over half of pupils (58.8% who were suspended 10 times were identified with SEND compared to 13.3% of pupils who were never suspended. For pupils with 20+ suspensions, almost two-thirds (65.7%t) were identified with SEND.

The research follows data showing that the rates of suspension from secondary school increased substantially in the years before the pandemic and reached their highest point in more than a decade in 2022. It also shows that pupils with social, emotional, or mental health needs were more likely to be suspended.

Recommendations for SEND children

The report finds that pupils with multiple suspensions have poorer education outcomes. Suspended pupils are, on average, approximately 12 months behind their not-suspended peers and are not achieving a standard pass in GCSE English and maths. This association persists after controlling for a wide range of student and school characteristics.

It recommends that schools proactively identify those at risk of suspension and plan early intervention to reduce the need for suspension. This could include seeking and using all available information on children across school phases, including prior attainment in Year 6, SEND status including for those without an EHCP, attendance history, and previous disciplinary action.

Education Policy Institute (EPI) report


Schools and colleges must also be equipped to recognise pupils with mental health and other additional needs. Given the link it found between social, emotional, mental health needs and suspensions, the authors said it is vital that schools have sufficient resources and teachers are equipped with the skills to recognise mental distress and be able to work closely with healthcare professionals, so pupils are referred on to appropriate services and receive effective support. This could be enabled by the Mental Health Support Teams which are currently being rolled out across the country.

The authors added: “Social, emotional, or mental health (SEMH) need is the most common type of SEND amongst pupils who experience suspension. In this category, 6.1% of suspended pupils were identified with SEMH before their first suspension and 8.8% of suspended pupils were identified with SEMH problems after their first suspension.”

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