SchoolExclusions School Exclusions Inquiry

School Exclusions Inquiry - Year 2

On 24 April 2013 we published our Year 2 report "Always Someone Else's Problem" on illegal exclusions. Supported by a survey of teachers, it details the scale and nature of children illegally excluded. At a conservative estimate, this affects thousands of children in several hundred schools.

We published our Year 2 report "They Go The Extra Mile" on inequalities in school exclusions in March 2013. In Year 1 of our School Exclusions Inquiry we found a boy of Black Caribbean heritage with Special Educational Needs (SEN), eligible for free school meals is 168 times more likely to be excluded from school than a White British girl without SEN, from a more affluent family.

Our Year 2 reports take a deeper look at illegal exclusions and inequalities in exclusion rates, best practice and make a series of recommendations to schools, the Department for Education, the Teaching Agency and Ofsted who are required by law to respond.

The first year's findings were released in the House of Commons in March 2012 in a report entitled "They Never Give Up On You"

Since the report on phase one was published in March 2012 we have:

  • obtained responses to the formal recommendations from Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE);
  • received early insights from schools, Academy chains, initial and continuing teacher development providers,
  • and children and young people themselves, into the positive difference the findings and recommendations have already instigated;
  • defined the focus for Year 2's work;
  • taken account of continuing reflections on the Inquiry from "Amplify" (children and young people's advisory group to the Children's Commissioner);
  • put out to tender research to be undertaken on one focused area for investigation in Year 2, and;
  • set up a children and young people's advisory panel.

Results of Year 1:

1.  Recommendations and responses
"They Never Give Up On You" made formal recommendations to the DfE and Ofsted.  By law when the Children's Commissioner presents such a report statutory agencies affected by its findings and recommendations must make an equally formal response. The Children's Commissioner will then publish these and respond to them.  The DfE's and Ofsted's formal responses are available to download here.

2.  Early successes following "They Never Give Up On You"
"They Never Give Up On You" has had the following impacts so far.  Readers will note that some are individual cases that have more general and system-wide application, whilst others relate more directly to policy. 

  • The updated school exclusions guidance was published by the DfE slightly before the OCC's report in order to comply with Parliamentary timetabling requirements. It was constructed by officials who had been in detailed and lengthy confidential discussions with the OCC on the likely findings and recommendations in our report in the period immediately before their own and our publication. The enhanced provisions in that revised guidance reflect our recommendations concerning the importance of the excluded student's voice in any exclusions process to the guidance regarding the exclusion of pupils with statements of Special Educational Need in the guidance also meet the concerns we raised in the report.
  • The DfE's formal response to our recommendations agrees, and to that end re-states, that whilst head teachers and governors need to have the ultimate sanction of exclusion as part of their range of sanctions, all exclusions must comply with the law.
  • The School Adjudicators are looking in great detail at whether a diversifying publicly funded schools system will lead to a decrease or increase in exclusions from school.  Like us, they agree that at the moment it is too early to tell, as the many changes to patterns of schooling are in their infancy.
  • A senior civil servant meeting the Children's Commissioner on separate business disclosed that in a family-related exclusion from school the family had used the report's findings and recommendations to overturn a head teacher and governing body's wrongful decision to try to exclude a child with special needs.
  • Two major national Academy chains are using the report as a tool for further school improvement across their groups of schools.  Both want to engage with the work of the OCC not only on this but other topics and areas for development.
  • Senior local government staff report using the findings in training for schools' staff and governors.
  • A university widely providing initial teacher training and continuing professional development reports a significant increase in trainee teachers and those undertaking further qualifications wanting to write dissertations and other significant applied professional development assignments on school exclusion and behaviour. The institution concerned attributes this to the influence of the report.
  • As a result of the Children's Commissioner requesting unpublished data on exclusions from the DFE, the Department decided the new analysis required should lead to an update in its own research reports.  It therefore released a profile of this data, adding to the knowledge base available. 
  • There have been a number of calls from senior DfE Ministers since March 2012 which echo some of the key recommendations in "They Never Give Up On You".  Although the Office of the Children's Commissioner cannot determine the exact degree to which our report contributed to these calls, it is encouraging nonetheless that the report is being reflected in political thinking and public statements.

3.  A second year for the School Exclusions Inquiry, 2012-13
"They Never Give Up On You" uncovered challenging and groundbreaking concrete evidence of illegality in the practice of some schools, as well as confirming the enduring existence of glaring inequalities for some excluded children and young people within the education system.

Written responses to the Call for Evidence gave us a clear picture of what was happening on the ground.  Submissions came from families, schools, teacher unions, legal experts, Ofsted, Directors of Children's Services and others working in the system, and children and young people themselves.  Discussions with the Children's Commissioner's children and young people's advisory group "Amplify" also contributed to the evidence base, as did the work of a group of young people at risk of or having already experienced exclusion, whose work was supported by the advocacy charity Catch22.

Visits around the country to urban, suburban, mixed and very rural areas also discovered some fine examples of the very best, alongside evidence of poor or questionable, practice.  These field visits were then supported by several formal evidence sessions with witnesses appearing in person and speaking to our expert panel.  Given the nature of the evidence that arose; our second year aims to provide further insight into underlying factors and solutions.

The second year of work focuses on two areas that stood out in the original report and in all the evidence gathered as part of the work that led to its publication.  These are: 

  • Inequalities, and
  • Illegal exclusions.

The University of Sussex was commissioned to undertake research to analyse further the findings uncovered in Year 1 on the inequalities in characteristics among the excluded population. This analysis includes investigating in greater depth and detail:

  • the characteristic(s) of population(s) at highest risk of exclusions;
  • the role of teacher training/CPD;
  • the attitudes and perceptions of the school workforce;
  • the demographic make up of the workforce, and;
  • the capturing and presentation of examples of good practice. 

Illegal exclusions
An in-depth piece of research has been commissioned to analyse data to further highlight and probe the issue of illegal practice, as recommended in "They Never Give Up on You".  This work includes polling the workforce on an anonymous basis and using the Children's Commissioner's Power of Entry to look in detail at recording and documentation of exclusions.  Illegal exclusion, by its very nature, is difficult to probe given it is not supposed to happen in the first place and is therefore often covert. 

This piece of work will seek to probe claims such as "We know it happens and who does it but we can't say and we don't do it here of course" said in these or similar words in every locality the first year's Inquiry Panel visited and every gathering asked by the Children's Commissioner since 2010.  Advice on what to do about the issue will then follow.

One year on
In addition to these two major thematic reports, a "One Year On" update to "They Never Give Up on You" will be published in May 2013. This will summarise Year 2's work to date, and report on the progress made after Year 1's recommendations to include policy change, an impact assessment, and reports on other strands highlighted in Year 1.

4.  Children and Young People's Advisory Group and the role of "Amplify"
The March 2012 report "They Never Give Up On You" uncovered the issue that the majority of children, young people and parents caught up in the exclusions system did not understand their rights around this issue.  A guide of this sort will inform these groups, and those who work to provide impartial advocacy and a responsive and transparent system.

"Amplify", the advisory group to the OCC made up of children and young people are also valuable contributors to the work done on this subject.  They were consulted three times during the work done in 2011-12, and a number of members have expressed an interest in working on it as part of their contribution to the work in 2012-13.  The group presents challenges to the thinking and the focus of work done by both the Children's Commissioner and the team working on school exclusions, not least because all members are of school age and attending a wide variety of schools.  They see at close quarters what happens in disruption to learning, and how schools' systems of discipline, behaviour management, expectation, sanctions and rewards work. Some members have direct familial experience of the inequalities strand of the Inquiry's work and their stories have been powerful contributors to our thinking.  They have also been involved in helping to tender and interview potential contributors, and representatives were present at the Parliamentary launch of "They Never Give Up On You."

As part of the Inquiry's work in the first year, the OCC instituted a children and young people's advisory group via Catch22.  The members of this group had direct experience of school exclusions.  Their invaluable insight, experience and views helped shape the report, and they introduced its publication at the launch in Parliament.  The group worked alongside us to produce a children and young person's version of the report in the form of an animation.  This pulls out the statistics and facts uncovered by Year 1 and presents some stark clear challenges as a result, to powerful effect.  The animation is popular with young people and adults alike, and is a potential training and development tool with teachers, head teachers, governors, parents and students. 

We are pleased to announce that the Runnymede Trust was awarded the contract to form a specialist and focused children and young people's advisory group to work on the School Exclusions Inquiry in Year 2. 

This group has informed and influenced both the development of the second year's work strands, and the commissioning and procurement of providers where possible. They will then continue to help inform, influence, monitor and review the work. 

Further information
To find out about Year 1 of the School Exclusions Inquiry and the background to it click here.

To find out more:
Contact John Connolly, Principal Policy Advisor (Education) at

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