Exclusion from school can lead to long-term mental-health problems, study shows

Large-scale research also shows that excluded pupils can develop a range of disorders, including anxiety, depression and behavioural problems

Adi Bloom

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Excluding children from school can lead to long-term psychiatric problems and psychological distress, a large-scale new study has shown.

The research, from the University of Exeter, also showed that poor mental health can lead to exclusion from school.

Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and lead author of the study, said that excluded children can develop a range of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and behaviour-related problems. Even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

She suggested that the resulting psychological difficulties could require long-term clinical support from the NHS.

The study, of more than 5,000 pupils, found a “bi-directional association” between psychological distress and exclusion. This meant that children with mental-health problems, such as depression, anxiety and ADHD, were more likely to be excluded from school.

But, equally, children who had no previous record of mental ill health, but had been excluded from school, were more likely than their classmates to experience psychological distress later on.

'Turning point'

“Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider,” said Claire Parker, one of the researchers. “Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school.”

The report, which is published in the journal Psychological Medicine, highlighted the fact that excluding a child from school can have a long-term effect on education and progress.

It concluded: “Support for children whose behaviour challenges school systems is important. Timely intervention may prevent exclusion from school, as well as future psychopathology.”

Professor Ford added: “Given the established link between children’s behaviour, classroom climate and teachers’ mental health, burn-out and self-efficacy, greater availability of timely support for children whose behaviour is challenging might also improve teachers’ productivity and school effectiveness.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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