Permanent exclusions at lowest level in 15 years

Fewer than 4,000 pupils were excluded in 2020-21, although there were Covid restrictions for part of the school year
28th July 2022, 1:08pm


Permanent exclusions at lowest level in 15 years
A new report has called for permanent exclusions in primary schools to be banned.

Permanent exclusions in England dropped by more than a fifth - to the lowest level in at least 15 years - during the second academic year impacted by Covid school closures, new government data has shown.

A total of 3,928 students were permanently excluded in the 2020-21 academic year - 392 in primaries, 44 in special schools, and 3,492 in secondaries - compared to 5,057 the year before.

This is lower than any figure for permanent exclusions since 2006-07, the earliest data published by the Department for Education.

In contrast, suspensions increased by 12 per cent in the same period, from 310,733 in 2019-20, to 352,454 in 2020-21.

A permanent exclusion refers to a pupil who is told to leave a school and won’t come back, whereas a suspension means a pupil is told not to come to school for a set period of time.

Both academic years starting in 2019 and 2020 were heavily affected by Covid restrictions. In 2020-21 schools were only open to key worker and vulnerable children for the first half of the spring term, with teaching available online.

In 2019-20, schools were closed to most pupils from late March onwards as a result of the first national lockdown.

Although exclusions were technically possible during the Covid crisis, the DfE has said: “pandemic restrictions will have had an impact on the numbers presented”.

“Persistent disruptive behaviour” was the most common reason given for exclusions in 2020-21, with this accounting for more than a third (39 per cent) of cases.

Five in every 10,000 pupils were excluded in 2020-21.

The highest rate of permanent exclusions in recent years occurred in 2017-18, when 7,905 pupils were excluded - double the proportion of last year.

There was a sharper increase in the numbers of girls receiving suspensions, which rose by 20 per cent to 105,000 last year, compared to an 11 per cent rise among boys to 248,000 suspensions.

Campaigners have warned that the bigger rise among girls is an indication that their behaviour was impacted by a greater experience of trauma during the pandemic.

Indy Cross, chief executive of Agenda, said: “It’s deeply troubling to see our worst fears confirmed, that the pandemic hit girls hardest in terms of their education.”

When and whether children should be excluded from school has been a point of contentious debate in recent months.

Earlier this year, a report led by a former children’s commissioner said permanent exclusions should be banned in primary schools by 2026.

The Commission on Young Lives, chaired by Anne Longfield, says that no school should be judged to be “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted without proving it is inclusive and calls for pupil wellbeing to be measured in performance tables.

Ms Longfield said: “Over recent years, we have seen the growth of an exclusions culture that perversely rewards removing some vulnerable children from the school roll.

“That must not continue. We need a new culture of inclusion and accountability, that recognises and rewards nurture and that sticks with children and families from cradle to career.

While, last week, the government’s behaviour tsar said councils pursuing behaviour policies aimed at stopping exclusions in schools risk ruining the life chances of other pupils.

Tom Bennett, a government adviser on behaviour, said a new charter introduced by Southwark Council in South London to minimise the number of exclusions could leave children exposed to “indignity and harassment”.

The comments came after Southwark Council asked schools to sign up to an inclusion charter where they pledge not to exclude, apart from cases where other pupils are at risk of harm.

In 2020-21, four local authorities - Milton Keynes, Havering, City of London and the Isles of Scilly - excluded no pupils permanently at all, though two of these, Isles of Scilly and City of London, have just one school each.

The highest rates of permanent exclusion came in Nottingham and Gateshead, where the exclusion rate was 0.15 and 0.14 respectively.

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