• This article covers the important legal changes to school exclusions in response to coronavirus. We have summarised the key amendments that educational establishments should be aware of.

    Context

    School exclusions – where a headteacher can exclude a child from school for bad behaviour – have risen sharply in the last few years. Recent research shows that the coronavirus pandemic has also caused potential new and heightened risks for schools and pupils at risk of a school exclusion.

    The Excluded Lives Research Team at the University of Oxford recently launched ‘School Exclusion Risks after COVID-19’. This report includes some interesting findings, including forecasting that schools may become less tolerant of pupils struggling to follow instructions as public health guidance is implemented. It also describes Government changes to school exclusion policies as being of concern.

    Changes to school exclusions due to coronavirus

    In response to the pandemic, temporary amendments have been made to the regulations on school exclusions.

    These amendments are in place from 1 June to 24 September 2020. They seek to introduce more flexibility to the school exclusion process by allowing:

    • Remote meetings for both governing board and Independent Review Panels (IRPs) in situations where prescribed requirements are fulfilled. Remote meetings via audio and video are permitted for any meeting which has not occurred by 1 June. This also applies where the exclusion takes place on or after 1 June, and a physical meeting cannot take place due to coronavirus. The requirements are:
        • All participants must consent. Parents should be informed that if they do not consent, there will be a delay to the exclusion being heard.
        • Everyone must have access to the technology required to access the virtual meeting.
        • All participants must be able to make their representations or discharge their respective functions.
        • The meeting can be held in a fair and transparent way.
    • Amending governing board meeting timescales. The amendment only applies to exclusions where the timescales for meetings had not expired before 1 June or for new exclusions from 1 June, where it is not reasonably practicable to meet remotely. In those circumstances the time limit for meeting is extended by 10 school days or a longer period where reasonably necessary. For permanent exclusions and fixed term exclusions that take the term total to more than 15, the board would have 25 school days to arrange a hearing. For fixed term exclusions that take the total to between six and 15 school days, the board would have 60 school days to hold a meeting. For exclusions where the time limit has expired before 1 June, the meeting should be arranged as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so.
    • Extending the period parents have to request an IRP to 25 school days. This applies to all permanent exclusions from 1 June, or where the exclusion took place before 1 June but the time limit to request a review has not expired.
    • Amends the time limit for arranging an IRP. This applies where it is not possible to meet in person and a remote meeting cannot be arranged. In these circumstances, the time limit is extended from 15 school days from the parental request to 25 school days or as long as reasonably necessary. Much like with the governing board time limit, the time limit will not be extended where the 15 school days have already passed. In these circumstances arranging authorities should try and organise a remote hearing or an in-person hearing as soon as reasonably practicable.

    Tips for dealing with school exclusions

    The Department for Education has published statutory guidance. This includes supplementary guidance on the changes to the exclusion of pupils from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units during the pandemic.

    This guidance sets out what schools and local authorities must do to comply with the law. It should therefore should be read and followed by anybody involved in an exclusion process. It should also be read alongside the relevant regulations, which is included with the guidance link above.

    The University of Oxford’s report also raises concerns that stricter policies may discriminate or unfairly increase the risk of exclusion for certain young people. It will be challenging for schools to implement these new requirements, but it will be important to remain aware and ensure that any changes to policy and action taken does not potentially discriminate against, harass or victimise certain categories of pupils.

    Further support

    If you need advice on school exclusions, exclusion hearings and/or possible discrimination risks, please contact Louise Brenlund or Antonio Fletcher.

    For wider support on education-related issues please get in touch with our Education team.

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Education page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

  • Key contact:

    Get in touch

    Please fill out the below form or alternatively you can call us on 01622 690691

    • By submitting an enquiry through 'get in touch' your data will only be used to contact you regarding your enquiry. Please view our website and cookie policy for more information