The rise in suspensions and exclusions calls for creative solutions

Our research into suspensions and exclusions identified regional disparities and a worrying lack of capacity to meet needs, writes Celia Whittuck

Our research into suspensions and exclusions identified regional disparities and a worrying lack of capacity to meet needs, writes Celia Whittuck

13 Feb 2024, 5:00

In light of Children’s Mental Health Week last week, Education solicitors, IBB Law explored government data to obtain a clearer picture of child behaviour, and the top reasons for expulsions and suspensions in schools throughout England.

The relation between children’s mental health and their behaviour is known to be closely linked. It is common for stress and worry within children to manifest as behavioural issues which could affect their school performance, or worse, see them reprimanded with a suspension or exclusion.

In the period between 2016 and 2022, there were a staggering 1,200,186 incidences of pupils who were exluded and/or suspended once or more in England, accounting for 2 per cent of the total student population over that period. But within this national total, it’s also possible to spot regional disparities, evolving trends and prevalent reasons behind these exclusions.

Geographical location played a significant role in shaping exclusion and suspension rates across England. The north east emerged as the region with the highest percentage of exclusions and suspensions, highlighting a concerning trend. Conversely, outer London stood out as the region with the lowest percentage, showcasing a notable difference in disciplinary actions taken against pupils.

A closer look at the data from the academic year 2021/22 revealed that multiple regions experienced an increase in exclusions and suspensions, signalling a potential escalation in disciplinary issues. All regions in the northern part of the country surpassed the national average for the percentage of exclusions and suspensions, emphasising a pressing concern for policymakers and educators.

The analysis also uncovered the primary reasons behind exclusions, shedding light on the diverse challenges faced by schools. Notably, the most common cause for exclusions in both special schools and state-funded primary schools was the physical abuse of an adult, indicating the prevalence of behavioural issues among pupils.

Physical abuse is a significant factor

A noteworthy finding in state-funded primary schools was that sexual misconduct surpassed bullying as the leading cause for exclusions, with a staggering threefold difference.

The data revealing the causes behind suspensions and expulsions in UK schools underscores the critical need for a balanced and fair approach in addressing disciplinary issues. It is imperative to recognise that behind every statistic is a student’s future at stake.

When examining all types of schools, it becomes evident that physical abuse involving both adults and students is a significant factor leading to suspensions and exclusions. This raises questions about the existence and adequacy of in-school alternative measures to address challenging behaviour, and whether schools are adequately prepared and resourced to implement such alternatives.

In-school alternative provisions are educational strategies or programmes designed to support students who may struggle in a traditional classroom setting due to various reasons such as behavioural issues, learning differences or social challenges. This can take the form of a nurture base or learning support centre and can deliver anything from short interventions to a bespoke curriculum.

Such in-school provisions give teachers or other staff a chance to understand a child’s behaviour before suspensions or exclusions take place, potentially exacerbating behaviour issues and cutting key classroom time.

We know that there tends to be a connection between unmet special educational needs (SEN) and disruptive behaviour. It is crucial not to disregard the correlation between suspensions, exclusions, and special educational needs. SEN plays a role in some instances of suspensions and exclusions, yet may go unnoticed by staff in the absence of a thorough investigation and in-school alternative provisions.

While accepting disruptive behaviour is challenging for staff, it is crucial not to overlook the underlying reasons for behavioural issues. Safeguarding becomes a crucial issue within schools for children with special educational needs due to the unique vulnerabilities and challenges they may face.

Educational institutions usually implement specific policies and procedures to address student misconduct, incorporating disciplinary actions, counselling and collaboration with parents or guardians. Nevertheless, we encourage schools to delve into underlying factors, such as the possible oversight of Special Educational Needs (SEN), as a potential contributor to misconduct.

And in the midst of a national shortage of places in special and alternative provision schools and pupil referral units, it’s all the more important to develop in-house solutions before reaching decisions like suspension or exclusion.

More from this theme


Ban on legal aid for exclusions cases challenged

Permission has been granted for a test case arguing parents should get access to public funding to challenge potentially...

Samantha Booth

Exclusion rate back to pre-pandemic norm as suspensions soar

Exclusion figures for the autumn term last year have been published today

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Patrick Obikwu

    In the 21st century, schools are still using educational models and curricula that originated in the 19th century. This outdated approach prioritizes rote memorization and exam preparation over holistic learning experiences. Consequently, schools have inadvertently transformed into mere exam-focused factories, neglecting the broader developmental needs of students.
    The consequences of this approach are becoming increasingly apparent. Students are disengaged and disillusioned, experiencing boredom and frustration within the confines of traditional classrooms. This dissatisfaction is reflected in rising rates of absenteeism, suspensions, and exclusions as students struggle to find meaning and relevance in their educational experiences.
    The metaphor of students “turning into fish” underscores the sense of suffocation and stagnation that pervades many educational environments. Like fish confined to a small tank, students feel trapped within rigid structures that fail to nurture their curiosity, creativity, and individuality. As a result, they may disengage from their studies and withdraw from active participation in the educational process (increasing absenteeism, exclusions, and suspensions).
    Addressing these challenges requires a fundamental re-evaluation of educational practices and priorities. Schools must move beyond the narrow focus on exam preparation and embrace more dynamic, student-centred approaches to learning. This includes fostering environments that encourage critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and experiential learning.
    Moreover, educators should recognize the diverse strengths, interests, and learning styles of students and provide opportunities for personalized learning experiences. By reimagining the role of education in the 21st century, schools can become more appealing and empower students to thrive in an ever-changing world, fostering a lifelong love of learning and a sense of fulfillment and purpose.