Suspension and exclusion guidance: Update

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Symbol for a better inclusion. Hand turns dice and changes the word exclusion to inclusion.

Douglas Silas looks at the recently-updated statutory guidance on suspension and permanent exclusion which will take effect in England from September 2023.

I explored the previous guidance, which was last updated in September 2022, in detail issue 121 of SEN Magazine (November/December 2022). The newly-updated guidance is again called Suspension and Permanent Exclusion for Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units in England, including pupil movement’ and will take effect from September 2023. It now contains fourteen parts and a couple of annexes regarding principles to apply when conducting meetings via remote access and giving further information.

What has changed in this update?
The latest guidance is not just a one-off updated one to the one that was issued last year, but is actually another update to ever-evolving exclusion guidance for many years now. It is now 79 pages long, (the last issue was 72 pages), and it has been updated to reflect new guidance and amended regulations about the headteacher’s ability to cancel an exclusion before a governing board has met to consider whether to reinstate a pupil (referred to as ‘withdrawing’ or ‘rescinding’ an exclusion). 

There is also a discussion now about how governing boards’ reinstatement meetings and IRPs (Independent Review Panels) can be held by remote access, provided certain criteria are satisfied. However, it makes clear that meetings held via remote access (for example, a live video link) should not be a default option and face-to-face meetings should always be encouraged.

What’s in the updated guidance?
The updates made to the previous (2022) guidance can be summarised as follows:

When headteachers suspend or permanently exclude a pupil they must, without delay, notify parents. If a pupil has a social worker, or if a pupil is looked-after, the headteacher must now, also without delay after the decision, notify the social worker or the VSH (Virtual School Head), as applicable.

When headteachers suspend or permanently exclude a pupil, they must also notify the local authority (LA), without delay. Legislative changes mean that this must be done regardless of the length of a suspension.

Guidance on the role of a social worker and VSH during governing board meetings and IRP meetings.

Guidance on managed moves, what they are now and how they should be used.

Clarified guidance on the use of off-site direction, as a short-term measure that can be used as part of a school’s behaviour management strategy.

Further guidance on the practice of involving pupils, so that any excluded pupil is enabled and encouraged to participate at all stages of the suspension or permanent exclusion process, considering their age and ability to understand.

Guidance for governing bodies to ensure that they review data to consider the level of pupil moves and the characteristics of pupils who have been permanently excluded, to ensure this sanction is only used when necessary as a last resort.

What about remote access meetings?
The guidance says that parents (if a pupil is under 18) or excluded pupils (if they are aged 18 years or over) can request a meeting to be held by the governing board or IRP by remote access, but this should not be a default option. It stresses that using remote access does not alter other procedural requirements that apply to governing bodies, arranging authorities or IRPs.

The guidance also says that holding meetings via remote access must only be done if governing boards or arranging authorities are satisfied that the meeting is capable of being held fairly and transparently (the term ‘remote access meeting’ in this guidance refers to a meeting arranged by the governing board or arranging authority that is carried out via electronic means). 

Regarding ‘fairness and transparency’ with remote access, the guidance says that it depends on the facts of each case, with further guidance in Annex A. It also talks about using remote access during extraordinary events or unforeseen circumstances, where it is not practical for a governing board or IRP meeting to be held in person, even if one has not been requested. 

However, the governing board or arranging authority must be satisfied that all participants will be able to fully make representations and carry out their functions by allowing them to hear and be heard, see and be seen, throughout the meeting. 

What are key principles when conducting meetings via remote access?
Annex A says that things to consider include:

Ensuring that the parents or excluded pupil understand that the meeting will be conducted through remote access.

That the parents/excluded pupil have an appropriate space free from other distractions to enable them to participate fully.

Not to hold a remote access meeting where the parents or excluded pupil have limited access to the internet, intermittent service or slower speed internet.

Where the parents or excluded pupil initially request a remote access meeting but then withdraw their request (and meetings should be held face-to-face as soon as possible and without delay).

It also points out that headteachers and governing bodies should not place undue pressure on the parents or excluded pupil to request a meeting to be held via remote access, even if doing so means that they will arrange a meeting any sooner and adds that governing bodies and IRPs should:

Provide clear instructions about how to join the meeting virtually and this should give the joining instructions in a timely manner ahead of the meeting.

Consider holding a ‘test meeting’ with any participant to check first that the technology used by all participants is suitable.

Explain at the start of the meeting how it will be run (including how participants should indicate that they wish to speak, how any ‘chat’ function should be used, whether there will be any breaks in proceedings, how parents and excluded pupils can access advocacy services during the meeting.

Douglas Silas
Author: Douglas Silas

Douglas Silas
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Specialist SEN solicitor Douglas Silas is the Managing Director of Douglas Silas Solicitors.
W: SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk
T: @douglassilas
F: @douglassilas

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