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Expert blog: School exclusion numbers rise and social inequalities remain

As the latest figures on school exclusions show a rise against last year, Stephanie King, PhD researcher from the Nottingham Institute of Education, discusses the impact of missed school on children from marginalised communities.

Empty desks in a classroom
Young people from marginalised groups are more likely to be excluded from school than their peers

New figures on permanent and fixed term school exclusions in England in the academic year 2021/22 show increases in both permanent exclusions and fixed term suspensions on the previous year, continuing a familiar pattern of school exclusions mirroring social inequalities.

For many people, not a lot of good came from the pandemic, and there were many concerns about ‘lost learning’ and how to help school students to catch up. However, the pandemic did significantly reduce the number of exclusions from school. The latest figures show that, as schools began to recover from Covid, so did the exclusion figures. In English schools 2021/22 there were 6,495 recorded permanent exclusions, over 2,500 more than the previous year. Although this figure is not as high as the last full year pre-pandemic (7,900 in 2018/19), it shows a worrying trend that demonstrates that we have still failed to find solutions that avoid exclusion from school.

There have been a number of reports over the years that have explored the impact on young people of being excluded from school (see for example Gill, Quilter-Pinner and Swift, 2017; Education Select Committee, 2018; Timpson, 2019) and the links between school exclusion and poor academic outcomes, future unemployment, ill health and exposure to crime have been well explored. These links offer an incentive to address school exclusion not only for those individuals directly affected, but also as a social ill.

Whilst the total figures for permanent exclusion from school vary each year, the pattern remains stubbornly consistent. Young people from marginalised groups, including those who are eligible for free school meals, with identified special educational needs and disabilities and from certain minority ethnic groups are all more likely to be excluded from school than their peers. This trend has been consistent across all of the years that school exclusion data for England has been collected. In this way, school exclusion both represents and perpetuates social inequalities. Efforts to reduce the number of school exclusions must also address why this pattern is so consistent, and seek to address it.

Despite many policy and practice efforts to make our schools more inclusive, some of our most vulnerable young people, and those facing the most challenging living situations are the most likely to lose their access to a school education. This is in a context of the continued marketisation of the English education system which has become increasingly removed from democratic control and focused on “the core business of credentialing the students”. These reforms appear to be “at the cost of providing a good education for all” (Reay, 2022).

If we are serious about trying to reverse the trends in school exclusion, we must confront the relationship between exclusion from school and wider social inequalities. This must be the impetus for a radical overhaul of our school system, based on inclusion, belonging and a truly universal education.

Stephanie King, Nottingham Institute of Education
PhD research: An exploration of school exclusion

Published on 21 July 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Institute of Education; School of Social Sciences