School Exclusions Inquiry

The Office of the Children's Commissioner launched an Inquiry into School Exclusions in 2010. It was the first ever Inquiry launched under the Children Act 2004 powers.

The School Exclusions Inquiry aimed to examine a number of key areas:

  1. whether the system is consistent with children's rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and;
  2. the decision making process up to the point of exclusion and whether schools and other public bodies are meeting the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty as defined in the Equality Act 2010.

 Children and young people were at the heart of shaping and informing all aspects of the inquiry from its inception and throughout all the reports.

The Inquiry ran for two years and was supported by a panel of 5 members who had experience and expertise in the field.

Year One


"They never give up on you" - Office of the Childrens Commissioner School Exclusions Inquiry (full report)

"They never give up on you" - Office of the Childrens Commissioner School Exclusions Inquiry (executive summary)

"They never give up on you" - Office of the Childrens Commissioner School Exclusions Inquiry (press release)

"They never give up on you" - Office of the Childrens Commissioner School Exclusions Inquiry (Annexes)




1.  Recommendations and responses

  • "They Never Give Up On You" made formal recommendations to the Department for Education and Ofsted.

2.  Impacts following the publication of "They Never Give Up On You"

 Readers will note that some are individual cases that have more general and system-wide application, whilst others relate more directly to policy.

  • Department for Education School Exclusion guidance: the updated school exclusions guidance was published by the Department for Education 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.
  • Department for Education's formal response: the 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: they 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 reported 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.
  • Department for Education data analysis: 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.
  • Recommendations: There have been a number of calls from senior Department for Education 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 aimed to provide further insight into underlying factors and solutions around 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 included 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 was 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 included 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. 

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 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.

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. 


Year Two


"Always someone else's problem"

"They go the extra mile"




"Always Someone Else's Problem"

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.


"They go the Extra Mile"

We published our Year 2 report 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.