While exclusions are rare in primary schools, there are many factors which make a child more likely to be excluded.
Who is more likely to be excluded?
It is more common for children with a mental health condition or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to be excluded from school, than those without.
Children from certain ethnic communities – including black, mixed race, Gypsy, Roma, and Irish Travellers - also have higher chances of being excluded when compared to their White British peers.
The most common reason for children being excluded from school, either permanently or for a fixed period of time, is for persistent disruptive behaviour.
Boys are significantly more likely than girls to be excluded from school. While exclusion in primary school is far less common than in secondary school, studies suggest that schools might be missing opportunities to identify boys’ needs early and divert primary-age boys away from a pathway to exclusion.
Girls who are in care, or have been looked-after, are also more likely to be excluded than girls who haven’t been supported by social care.
Exclusions in primary schools in England
Permanent exclusions – refers to a pupil who is excluded and will not come back to that school (unless the exclusion is overturned). An average of 40 children aged 5-19 are permanently excluded every day in schools in England.
It is rare for a child to be permanently excluded in primary schools (0.03% in 2016/17). However, while the numbers are still small, the rate of permanent exclusions for five year olds who have started school doubled over the years between 2015-17.
Fixed period exclusions – refers to a pupil who is excluded from school for a set period of time. A pupil can be excluded for a maximum of 45 days within a single academic year. Around 2,000 pupils aged 5-19 are excluded for a fixed period of time each day in schools in England.
The link between exclusions, mental health and SEND
Boys are twice as likely as girls to present with severe and persistent behavioural problems (or conduct disorder). As persistent disruptive behavior is the most common reason for children being excluded from primary schools, boys are then more likely than girls to be excluded from school.
Boys are also more likely to be identified as having SEND, and children with these needs are more likely to be excluded from school.
Severe and persistent behavioural problems are linked to children’s early exposure to multiple and prolonged difficult situations - this affects their ability to calm and soothe themselves when they are faced with day-to-day stresses.
When boys experience such situations, they tend to externalise their distress – this maybe through violence or being physically or verbally disruptive – while girls are more likely to internalise distress which can result in them developing emotional difficulties.
Each child is different, however, and some children’s temperaments can be more sensitive to being faced with difficult situations than others. Whatever the case, pupils can work with school staff to develop strategies to help manage challenging situations and to reduce the chances of behaviour affecting their learning or of them becoming unable to cope with their emotions.
What schools can do to support pupils who are at risk of being excluded
Exclusion often isn’t effective in changing pupil behaviour, particularly if it doesn’t address underlying problems. If a child is excluded before they are offered help, it can represent a critical turning point increasing the likelihood of that child developing poorer mental health and other multiple poor outcomes.
Schools are often very reluctant to exclude children until a range of options have been exhausted. Behaviour policies, for example, usually set out the importance of alternatives to exclusion wherever possible, but there can be significant variations in rates of exclusions from area to area.
Look at what additional support more at-risk children may need
- Children at risk of exclusion should have a full assessment to identify whether they have unmet mental health needs. Schools should also consider what additional support or alternative provision may be needed for these children.
- Interventions to address persistent poor behaviour before it becomes entrenched are often not used enough. It is essential for schools to take a preventive and early intervention approach to exclusion. The most effective interventions for children with severe and persistent behavioural problems are those that help parents develop strategies to settle children’s behaviour.
Engage parents and carers
- Placing parents and carers at the centre of discussions about decisions relating to their child is important to help reduce the risk of permanent exclusion.
- Communicating with parents and carers during the transition period from primary to secondary school is particularly important as this is a key point where children with additional needs are at even greater risk of being excluded.
- Encourage parents and carers of pupils returning from a fixed-period exclusion to attend the school to discuss how their child might best re-engage and succeed.
Monitor and keep track of exclusions
- Build in regular senior leadership team sessions to monitor and critically analyse exclusion data.
- Take decisive action when there are any sudden changes in trends or where there is evidence of exclusions affecting particular groups of children from specific sections of the community.
- Work collaboratively with local community leaders and with families to problem-solve early intervention strategies. Consider peer mentoring for at-risk boys by male community members to support school re-engagement, aspiration, self-belief and progress. See models and programmes like Up My Street and Southside Young Leaders Academy. Also consider sharing good practice and effective strategies across schools in your area to reduce exclusions.
Managing persistent behavioural problems
Children as young as two or three can have persistent behavioural problems – this is often how a child communicates that something is wrong or is a sign that they may be in distress. Such persistent behavioural problems can have a big impact on a child’s life outcomes, especially if they emerge before secondary school years.
Reasons underpinning each child’s behaviour can vary but there is good evidence about what makes a difference to these children and how schools can help them settle their behaviour.
If behavioural problems are emerging:
- consider using tools such as the strengths and difficulties questionnaire to better understand underlying difficulties. Any child at risk of being excluded should be screened to understand any hidden difficulties or special educational needs
- find out if these behavioural problems are linked to something going on in the child’s personal life or to mental health difficulties. Help children get extra support through school and community counselling or child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)
- help parents to link up with support programmes which can provide parents with strategies to support their child (such as Triple P and Incredible Years). Parenting strategies are often the most effective in helping children make progress when children are stuck in patterns of challenging behaviour.
- use whole-school and classroom programmes* such as the Good Behaviour Game, and also Incredible Years which has a good record of supporting children’s mental health, reducing anti-social behavior and promoting achievement. Some targeted, small group work such as introducing nurture groups for children who are struggling, also have a good record of producing improvements.
*These school programmes are paid-for.