Informal Exclusions

Unofficial, Unrecorded and Illegal: What can be done about Informal Exclusions from School?

ROTA is seeking to challenge and change this illegal practice, which has been going on, under the radar, for several years.

What is the difference between a formal and an informal exclusion?

We have discovered that there is little awareness amongst young people and their parents on the difference between formal exclusions, which are legal, and informal exclusions, which are not.  In brief, these are the differences:

  • Formal exclusion of pupils from mainstream education are officially notified and recorded. Parents are told and have a right to appeal against a decision to exclude their child from school. Alternative educational provision must be made for excluded pupils. All local authorities are obliged to keep data on formal exclusions.
  • Informal exclusion of pupils from mainstream education happens when pupils are removed from class unofficially. This can take various forms, from being sent to a separate classroom, sent out of school, taken off roll, put on ‘exam leave’, moved to another school by arrangement, sent to a Pupil Referral Unit for an ‘interim’ period or sent home as part of an ‘elective home education’ deal.

This practice of informal exclusion is seriously disadvantaging children’s educational and life chances. Some children are excluded in this way multiple times without proper monitoring or proper provision made for them to continue their studies.

Which pupils are affected by informal exclusion?

Gathering statistical evidence on informal exclusions is notoriously difficult. As the Children’s Commissioner recently pointed out,

‘There are no official figures on the extent of unofficial and illegal exclusions, only surveys, which could severely underestimate the scale of the issue’.

Children’s Commissioner, 2017

 The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report, Making the Difference (October 2017) reported that data on informal exclusions gathered from local authorities goes nowhere near reflecting the true numbers.  

Attempts to gather statistical evidence about the groups of pupils most likely to experience informal exclusion has proved extremely difficult. The Department of Education (2017) acknowledges that pupils with statements of special educational needs or disability are the most affected by unofficial or unrecorded exclusion. However, this says little about background or ethnicity. Emerging evidence   from ROTA strongly suggests that the practice of informal exclusion disproportionately  affects  BAME pupils, such as those from Somali, Roma Gypsy,  and Irish Traveller communities.

What can be done?

Different approaches to tackling the problem of illegal/informal exclusions have been suggested by concerned organisations:

  1. Develop new expertise in the teaching profession, i.e. to improve pupil outcomes, focus on preventative work and intervention and reduce the number of exclusions.  (IPPR, The Difference.)
    ROTA endorses this approach. We believe it will help to bring about changes in policy in the long run. The survey data gathered by IPPR from teachers and other professionals in contact with young people who are excluded/at risk of exclusion echoes our own evidence: there is a need for better support for teachers and schools to develop preventative measures and alternatives to informal exclusion.  
  2. Impose financial penalties upon schools which are found to be carrying out illegal exclusions. (Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England.)
    ROTA is critical of this approach. We do not see how it will improve, or bring about changes to policy. A penalty fine does nothing to address the problem in the long term, and may even be seen as be seen as a ‘price to pay’ for removing children off the roll. It could be argued that some schools may take the path of least resistance and accept a penalty fine, especially where resources, e.g. for expert classroom assistance or expert help, are stretched.  At present, schools which are asked to reinstate a permanently excluded child, e.g. following an appeal against the exclusion, have to pay around £4,000 if they fail to do so. (DfE, 2017). We do not, however, know enough about how a penalty system will work. Further information will be sought as soon as it becomes available.    
  3. Develop better awareness of, alternatives to and ways of challenging illegal/informal exclusions with the communities most affected.
    This is the approach which ROTA is recommending. Having carried out preliminary research with a range of community organisations, teachers and other professionals in contact with BAME pupils experiencing exclusion, we are developing a community-led programme to look specifically at interventions to prevent escalation of problems leading to exclusion and at ways which communities can use their knowledge to influence changes in policy.  

ROTA hopes to take this research forward in 2018. We welcome all comments and contributions from policy makers, BAME communities, teachers, youth and community leaders and others who have first-hand experience of informal exclusion or who work with those who have been informally excluded. If you are a teacher, pupil, parent, youth worker or concerned organisation or individual and would like to speak to us in confidence, or discuss any of the issues, please let us know.


For further information please contact Eleanor Stokes – Education Policy Researcher or Maurice Mcleod – ROTA Chief Executive. 


Sources and references

Child Law Advice: School Exclusions

Childrens Commissioner for England. (2017) Briefing. Falling through the gaps in Education. November 2017

IPPR. (2017) Making the Difference. Breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion. Kiran Gill with Harry Quilter-Pinner and Danny Swift. October 2017.

Department for Education. (2017) Exclusion from mainstream schools, academies and pupil referral units. September 2017.

The Guardian  Newspaper. 17th December 2017.