Permanent exclusions dropped by more than a third to their lowest level since 2013 last year, official figures show, amid unprecedented disruption to schooling from Covid.
However government data does reveal exclusions had originally risen in the autumn term of 2019-20, before schools were closed for lockdown.
No one should rest assured that exclusions are declining, quite the opposite
New census data from the Department for Education shows 5,057 exclusions in 2019-20, a 35.6 per cent drop on the 7,894 seen the previous year.
It marks the lowest number since the 2013-14 academic year, and the lowest exclusion rate as a proportion of all pupils —0.06 per cent—since 2012-13. The exclusion rate had stood at 0.1 per cent in 2018-19.
Meanwhile suspensions also plummeted, falling from 438,265 in 2018-19 to 310,733 in the last academic year.
The suspension rate dropped from 5.36 per cent to 3.76 per cent.
DfE officials noted: “While permanent exclusions and suspensions were still possible throughout the academic year, school closures have had a substantial effect on the number of permanent exclusions and suspension and therefore caution should be taken when comparing figures across years.”
But the first term of 2019-20, before the pandemic hit, had seen a rise in both permanent exclusions, up 5 per cent to 3,200, and suspensions, up 14 per cent to 178,400.
“Persistent disruptive behaviour” continues to be the most common reason for both permanent exclusions and suspensions, accounting for around a third of cases.
Analysis shows a 20 per cent increase in permanent exclusions in primary schools in the autumn term 2019-20, before the March lockdowns.
Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference, said: “The figures for the autumn term reveal the real story on exclusions in this country – this is the data that we can rely on before pandemic lockdown measures hit. This is a social justice issue.
“Yet again the most vulnerable children are the most likely to fall out of education, such as those with special educational needs, social service interaction and living in increasing child poverty.
“No one should rest assured that exclusions are declining, quite the opposite. Instead, children are being permanently excluded in greater numbers at younger ages. This should sound alarm bells.”
It comes just a day after the Association of Directors of Children’s Services sounded the alarm over a longer-term trend of rising exclusions.
Sara Tough, chair of the ADCS families, communities and young people policy committee, told Schools Week exclusion was often “the first step on a journey that ultimately ends with social exclusion in adulthood too”.
Both the number and rate of exclusions had risen every year between 2012-13 and 2017-18, before levelling off with a 0.1 per cent drop in the number in 2018-19.
It followed the government’s announcement of new funding for schools to help prevent violence earlier this week.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said exclusions are “always a last resort”.
He said it was important to be “careful not to read too much” into today’s figures, adding: “To ensure that the number of exclusions does not start to rise again next year schools need the funded support of specialist services to meet every child’s needs.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “While we will always back headteachers to suspend or permanently exclude pupils where this helps maintain calm classrooms that bring out the best in every child, permanent exclusion of young children remains rare – two pupils per 10,000.
“Our guidance for schools is clear that staff should consider any underlying causes of poor behaviour before taking the decision to permanent exclude, and these decisions must be lawful, reasonable and fair.”