The law on school exclusions

The law on school exclusions


Exclusions are governed by the Department for Education's statutory exclusions guidance, which was most recently updated in September 2023. This guidance is binding on maintained schools, academies, alternative provision, and special schools.

When pupils do misbehave, schools should be able to respond promptly, predictably, and with confidence to maintain a calm, safe learning environment, and then consider how such behaviour can be prevented from recurring. To support these aims, there are different responses to behaviour that schools can use, including sanctions and pastoral approaches. For the vast majority of pupils, suspensions and permanent exclusions may not be necessary, as other strategies can manage their behaviour. If these approaches to behaviour management have been exhausted, then suspensions and permanent exclusions will sometimes be necessary as a last resort. It's important that schools use these interventions appropriately and that decisions and actions are taken in accordance with the statutory exclusion guidance.

There are 2 types of exclusion:

  • suspension (sometimes referred to as a fixed-period exclusion)
  • permanent exclusion

This page also introduces the use of internal isolation and informal or unofficial exclusions. 

General points on school exclusion

  • Only the headteacher of a school can suspend or permanently exclude a pupil on disciplinary grounds.
  • A pupil’s behaviour outside school can be considered grounds for a suspension or permanent exclusion.
  • Any decision of a headteacher, including suspension or permanent exclusion, must be made in line with the principles of administrative law, i.e. that it is lawful, reasonable, fair, and proportionate.
  • When establishing the facts in relation to a suspension or permanent exclusion decision the headteacher must apply the civil standard of proof, i.e. ‘on the balance of probabilities’ it is more likely than not that a fact is true, rather than the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ This means that the headteacher should accept that something happened if it is more likely that it happened than that it did not happen.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010, schools must not discriminate against, harass, or victimise pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity, or gender reassignment. These duties need to be complied with when deciding whether to exclude a pupil. 
  • The headteacher can cancel any exclusion that has already begun (or one that has not yet begun), but this can only happen when the governing board has not yet met to consider whether the pupil should be reinstated.


A suspension is a time-limited exclusion where the young person would be removed from the school for set period. 

Key points

  • A suspension must come with a start and end date at the time it is imposed, although it can be set to start in the future, and the term of the exclusion does not need to be continuous.
  • Suspensions can be for a part of a day or for a period of days. They are limited to 45 school days in one academic year.
  • A suspension cannot be extended into a longer suspension or converted into a permanent exclusion. In exceptional cases, usually where further evidence has come to light, a further suspension may be issued to begin immediately after the first suspension ends; or a permanent exclusion may be issued to begin immediately after the end of the suspension. 
  • For the first 5 school days of a suspension, the school should send work home for the young person and mark it if it is returned. From the sixth school day of suspension, alternative full-time education must be arranged by the school. These days are cumulative throughout a single school term, so for example the sixth one-day suspension for a young person in one term must result in alternative education education being made for that day.
  • In the case of a suspension which does not bring the pupil's total number of days of suspension to more than 5 in a term, the governing board must consider any representations made by parents, but it cannot direct reinstatement and is not required to arrange a meeting with parents.
  • Where a pupil would be excluded for more than 5 but not more than 15 school days in a term, if the parents make representations, the governing board must consider and decide within 50 school days of receiving the notice of suspension whether the suspended pupil should be reinstated.
  • A suspension that takes the total number of days a young person has been excluded for to 16 or more in a single term must be reviewed by the school's governing board, regardless of whether the family opt to be involved in the review. The review must begin within 15 school days of a suspension. 

Permanent exclusion

A permanent exclusion is when a pupil is no longer allowed to attend a school (unless the pupil is reinstated). The decision to exclude a pupil permanently should only be taken:

  • in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school's behaviour policy; and
  • where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others such as staff or pupils in the school.

Key points

  • The governing board must consider and decide on the reinstatement of a permanently excluded pupil within 15 school days of receiving notice of the permanent exclusion. 
  • The local authority must arrange suitable full-time education for the pupil to begin from the sixth school day after the first day the permanent exclusion took place. 
  • If the governing board uphold the exclusion, the family can request an independent review panel (“IRP”) within 15 school days. The independent review panel is made up of people independent of all the parties to the exclusion. The panel can recommend reconsideration of the exclusion, quash the exclusion and direct reconsideration of it or uphold the exclusion.
  • The effect of the recommended reconsideration and the directed reconsideration decisions is that the governing board of the excluding school will have to meet again within 10 school days of being notified and consider the exclusion again. They can choose to uphold the exclusion despite the independent review panel’s concerns.
  • If the independent review panel upholds the exclusion, or the governing board uphold on reconsideration, then there is no further avenue for reviewing fixed term exclusions other than a claim for disability discrimination in the First Tier Tribunal, a claim for discrimination in the County Court or a claim for judicial review in the High Court. 


Removal, sometimes referred to as internal isolation, is a form of exclusion in which a young person remains on the school site but is separated from other students and removed from their normal classes. The use of removal should allow for continuation of the pupil’s education in a supervised setting.

Key points

  • The use of Removal is governed by the behaviour in schools advice (paras. 79-88). 
  • Removal from the classroom should be considered a serious sanction. It should only be used when necessary and once other behavioural strategies in the classroom have been attempted, unless the behaviour is so extreme as to warrant immediate removal.
  • There is not an automatic right to a review of a removal decision. A family can make a formal complaint to the school if they are not happy with a decision to remove their child from the classroom. 
  • Removal should be used for the following reasons: to maintain the safety of all pupils and to restore stability following an unreasonably high level of disruption; to enable disruptive pupils to be taken to a place where education can be continued in a managed environment; and to allow the pupil to regain calm in a safe space.

Informal or unofficial exclusion

Listed below are examples of informal or unofficial exclusions that are unlawful and therefore open to challenge: 

  • Exclusion for a non-disciplinary reason,
  • Exclusion which has not followed the formal school exclusion process such as if the school has failed to confirm the exclusion in writing to the parent,
  • Sending a pupil home to 'cool-off',
  • Inappropriate use of a part-time timetable,
  • A school encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school's admission register. This practice is known as off-rolling. 


On this page

This information is correct at the time of writing, 5th September 2023. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

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