The disproportionate exclusion of pupils with SEND is unacceptable, write Qaisar Sheikh and Richard Oldershaw.

According to recent DfE figures, pupils with SEND account for 47% of permanent exclusions and 43% of suspensions. These pupils often experience challenges around cognitive developmental delay, mental health problems, sensory processing difficulties, emotional and behaviour challenges, autism and ADHD. The disproportionate exclusion of SEND pupils has long been a problem, and it is unacceptable for this to continue. The SEND system is under increasing strain, with the number of children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) rising 9.5% in the last year. That children and young people who are already marginalised suffer disproportionately from school exclusion is extremely concerning.

The research is unequivocal. Children who have been excluded from school suffer adverse, negative short-term and long-term outcomes. The Timpson Review of School Exclusion in 2019 found that children with special educational needs, from black African Caribbean backgrounds or who have had contact with social care services are most at risk of exclusion. Pupils excluded from school before the age of 12 have been found to be four-times more likely to be imprisoned during adulthood. Only 1% of excluded pupils will go on to achieve 5 good GCSE grades, and excluded pupils are at higher risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment, or training) and more vulnerable to exploitation. An exclusion has been estimated to cost £370,000 per young person across their lifetime, in education, benefits, healthcare, and criminal justice costs.

If a student is to be excluded (as an absolute last resort), it must be done so in a way that is legal, reasonable, fair, and proportionate. However, we know from our work in Coram that this is not always the case. We are also aware that many families simply do not have access to support when contesting these decisions and unfortunately for pupils excluded, there is also no access to legal aid funding. It is critical that professionals, charities, and community organisations working with families and young people have the vital information they need to understand the exclusion process and challenge exclusion which can have far-reaching consequences.

When a child is at risk of school exclusion, timely intervention is key. Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) recently launched the School Exclusions Hub, a free online resource covering every aspect of school exclusions. The hub explains the law on school exclusion, and includes step-by-step guides on topics relating to exclusions, templates of relevant forms and legal documents with suggested wording that can be used by families and professionals involved in the process.The School Exclusions Hub, supported by Mission 44 which was founded by Sir Lewis Hamilton, provides resources tailored to support children with SEND. As an example, if a school failed to identify and consider SEND when deciding whether to exclude, the School Exclusions Hub has a suggested wording document that addresses this situation and can be used in the appeals process. Furthermore, if a pupil suffered from discrimination or a school failed to secure external support, there are relevant resources available that can be used to strengthen the pupil’s case.

Qaisar Sheikh
Author: Qaisar Sheikh

Qaisar Sheikh
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Qaisar Sheikh, Head of Education Law at Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC).
Richard Oldershaw, Policy and Information Lead at CCLC.

X: @cclcuk
LinkedIn: @coram-children's-legal-centre


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