Go back a step

Disabled children illegally excluded from school every week

Tuesday 19th February 2013

Disabled children are routinely illegally excluded from school with a devastating impact on their education and mental health, according to new research from Contact a Family.

Over 400 affected families of children in England and Wales with disabilities or additional needs responded to our Falling Through The Net survey to show that:

  • more than half (53 per cent) of families have been asked to collect their child during the school day because there are not enough staff available to support them
  • more than half (56 per cent) of families have been told by the school that their child can't take part in a class activity or trip because it is unsuitable for them
  • almost a quarter (22 per cent) are illegally excluded every week and 15 per cent every day.

Schools using illegal exclusions bypass official procedures laid out by the Department for Education. Unlike formal exclusions, schools do not have to report this type of exclusion to the local authority. It is not subject to review or external monitoring and can drag on indefinitely.

Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said: "Illegal exclusions undermine the government's intentions set out in the children and families bill of disabled children of achieving their full potential. Children with additional needs up and down the country are missing out on a good education and the opportunity to form friendships because of illegal exclusions. If non disabled pupils were sent home because there were not enough school staff, there would be uproar. We have to ask why is it happening so regularly when it comes to disabled children and what can be done to tackle it?"

Families with disabled children are often under enormous practical, physical and emotional pressure. If schools use illegal exclusions, families are placed under additional stress. It is easy for pupils to slip through the net and to languish at home with very limited education or none at all.

For disabled children who already need more support than their peers, this withdrawal of education can have a devastating impact on their progress and attainment, as well as their confidence, relationships and mental health.

Contact a Family is concerned that local authority cuts could lead to increased numbers of disabled children being illegally excluded from school. As school budgets are stretched further, there could be less support for children with additional needs.

The charity is making the following recommendations to improve the situation.

  • Where exclusion is necessary, schools must follow statutory procedure to ensure decisions are lawful, reasonable and fair.
  • The most frequently illegally excluded pupils with a disability or additional needs are those who have conditions which affect behaviour. Schools should take early action to tackle the underlying cause, and to put in support before a crisis occurs.
  • Schools and teachers should work closely with parents to understand a child's condition or disability and their extra support needs and ensure the child gets the help they need.
  • Ofsted has an important role in identifying unlawful practice in the course of an inspection.  School should be offered additional support to help them improve their practice  A grading of 'inadequate' should be considered if schools continue to illegally exclude children with a disability, SEN or additional need.

Srabani Sen adds: "Parents of disabled children often don't realise this type of exclusion is unlawful. Our survey was carried out with parent carers who recognised that their child was being illegally excluded. As a result we fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg and many more children with a disability or additional needs are falling through the education net."

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England responded to our report saying: "The findings of Contact a Family's Falling Through The Net reflect those of my office's School Exclusions Inquiry which discovered disabled children are disproportionately more likely to be excluded than children without disabilities. It is vital that disabled children are not discriminated against in the education system."

Anyone concerned about any aspect of their disabled child's education should call Contact a Family's expert advisers on 0808 808 3555.