JUSTICE responded to the Department for Education’s consultation on its redrafted Behaviour Guidance and Suspensions and Permanent Exclusion Guidance on 31 March 2022. Our response is informed by the JUSTICE Working Party report, Challenging School Exclusions (2019)which found serious weaknesses in the current processes for making and reviewing decisions to exclude pupils in England.
We have responded to various aspects of the redrafted Guidance documents. Our response:
- Stresses the need to be clearer on teachers’ Equality Act and SEND legal duties;
- Supports more inclusion of professionals who know the child and can give context to their behaviour, such as social workers, but recommends more clarity on what their “inclusion” involves;
- Highlights the absence of a clear process to follow for head teachers before an exclusion decision is made, and recommends step-by-step guides or checklists be provided to support fair decision-making;
- Agrees that virtual meetings to review exclusions should continue to be an option, but only when a virtual meeting will provide a fairer and more accessible process for the parents and pupil;
- Queries the full extent of the data which will be collected and monitored, and recommends data to collect to give a full picture of exclusions practice;
- Raises concern with the overly-simplistic approach of the Behaviour Guidance to the impact of children’s SEND on their behaviour, which could lead to schools breaching their legal duties;
- Disagrees with the deletion from the Exclusions Guidance of references to disproportionately excluded groups, including children with SEND, children eligible for free school meals; or with Gypsy, Roma, Traveller or Caribbean ethnic heritage;
- Stresses concern with the continued silence of the exclusions guidance on the welfare risks of exclusion, including its mental health impacts and the risk of criminal exploitation;
- Calls for more proactive consideration of the child’s right to be heard, and how schools and local authorities can be supported to facilitate effective and meaningful participation of children in their exclusion processes, including consideration of the use of child advocates.
JUSTICE continues to call for root and branch reform of exclusions processes, including better safeguards before exclusions and more effective review mechanisms afterwards. We recommend the current ineffective governing board review is replaced by an investigative report by an independent reviewer; whilst the second stage of review should provide access to an appeal body. See our 2019 report for our full recommendations for a new model for challenging school exclusions.