Parise Carmichael-Murphy portrait

Written by Parise Carmichael-Murphy

Parise has worked with children and young people across the 0-25 age range in early years, specialist support secondary education, supported learning in further education, youth work, and inpatient settings.

School exclusion is a trigger point for risk of serious harm to young people. Young people excluded from school are more likely to experience social exclusion. They are placed at greater risk of developing severe mental health problems, obtaining education qualifications, experiencing unemployment, and being imprisoned. School exclusions can lead to isolation, which can be distressing and traumatic for a young person. This can have a detrimental impact on their mental health

Pupil views of school exclusion suggest that they understand, or are aware, of the behaviours that may result in exclusion from their school. However, this does not mean that they have a similar understanding or awareness of the potential repercussions of school exclusion across the life course. Young people voice that exclusions can exacerbate difficult situations, lead to negative labelling, and limit school and learning time. 

Statutory guidance on suspension and permanent exclusion clarify the headteacher’s duty to inform parties about exclusion, which lists parents, social workers, virtual school heads, local authorities and governing boards. However, the guidance does not clarify how the young person who experiences the exclusion should be informed and school policies are not typically worded in a way that is accessible or meaningful to young people. 

Coram showed that the exclusion process or decision is not always made apparent to the young person who is expelled from school. Young people feel that exclusions are unfair or unjust when they have little opportunity to have their voices or concerns heard or appreciated throughout the process. Young people are likely to benefit from clearer guidance and better-regulated processes for involving them in any considerations being made to exclude them from school. This guidance should cover all means of ‘hidden’ exclusion, such as internal seclusion, managed moves, early exits and restricted timetabling.

Ofsted recognises the impact of school exclusion on restricting learning time, but not for placing young people at greater risk of harm. To better safeguard young people in schools, greater recognition of how cultures, systems and structures can place young people at risk of experiencing vulnerability or harm is vital. The growing number of exclusions for drug and alcohol-related incidents is contributing to the criminalisation of young people in education. The high-profile case of Child Q and the local safeguarding review revealed a failure to safeguard a young person at school. Those in positions of responsibility and authority overlooked risk present in the school and wider community environments; instead locating the ‘risk’ with Child Q. Child Q’s alleged connection with another young person who had been excluded from school was given as a reason to permit a strip search on school premises. 

Clearer safeguards are needed to protect young people from exclusion in context of local needs. Schools should be both accountable and responsiblev for the safeguarding implications of school exclusion. This requires better funding, infrastructure and organisation as well as targeted mental health support services