If your child has been excluded for five days or fewer in one term, you have the right to write to the governors to express your views and concerns about this. This is called making written representations, (also known as submissions). The governors must respond to any email/letter you write, but they do not have to hold a meeting at this stage and cannot decide that the exclusion was unjustified.
Some parents are therefore put off from making written representations for short exclusions, as the governors do not have the power to direct reinstatement. Others, however, use the opportunity to bring certain practices or failings to the attention of the governors who, in turn, may ask some searching questions of the school. This may deter a headteacher from excluding in future.
If your child has been excluded for a total of more than five days in one term, you can request that the governors meet to consider the headteacher’s decision. They could decide to either uphold the headteacher’s decision, or decide that it was unjustified. If they decide that it was unjustified, this would then be added to your child’s school record, effectively cancelling the exclusion.
For exclusions totalling more than fifteen days in one term, and for permanent exclusions, you’ll automatically be invited to a meeting. You might find our guide to challenging a permanent exclusion helpful.
You have the right to make a written representation for any exclusion. However, a meeting is the only place where you’ll be able to present your case in person and explain to the governors why you think the exclusion was unjustified.
Below is a template you can use when requesting a meeting with the governors for exclusions of more than five days, up to fifteen days. It could be adapted for other situations. Simply replace the bold text with details relating to your situation.
[Name of the person to whom
you are writing: often the clerk,
or chair of governors. Check the
letter from the headteacher informing you
of the decision to exclude your child]
[Name and address of school]
Fixed-period exclusion of [Full name of your child, date of birth, year group and class/form]
I am writing to request a meeting of the governors’ discipline/exclusions committee to consider the headteacher’s decision to exclude my [son/daughter, Name] - for a fixed period of [number] of days, from [dates].
I understand that the governors must make reasonable endeavours to arrange the meeting for a date and time that is convenient to all parties (statutory guidance on exclusion para 59).
I shall send my written representations in due course. In the meantime, I would be grateful if you would send me a copy of my child’s school record. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible with a suggested date for the meeting.
Making written representations
Before you write to the governors, you may find it useful to read:
- the headteacher’s letter informing you of their decision to exclude your child
- other relevant information the school has sent you
- the statutory guidance on exclusion and our own exclusion information.
You should include your reasons for disagreeing with the headteacher’s decision, and any information that supports your views. Your reasons should be explanatory, and specifically challenge the headteacher’s reason for the exclusion. Where possible, back your points up with concrete examples and refer to recent information provided by education and other professionals, such as reports. It’s also important to include your views and your child’s views.
For example, you may want to include:
- background information relating to your child’s diagnosis and special educational needs and disability (SEND)
- events leading to and beyond diagnosis
- events leading up to the exclusion
- details of the incident
- the specific reason given by the headteacher for the exclusion and why you disagree
- the underlying reasons for the incident, which are a direct consequence of, or at least linked to, your child’s autism
- your views on the exclusion
- your child’s views, where possible
- a conclusion and summary of why the exclusion wasn’t justified, and what you want to happen.
The specific information you include will depend on your reasons for disagreeing with the headteacher’s decision, but you will also have to demonstrate that:
- the exclusion was not justified and not reasonable in all the circumstances
- your child has been disciplined for behaviour they cannot control and which could have been prevented with the correct support in place
- there were appropriate alternatives to exclusion and not all types of targeted support had been explored and exhausted.
Our School Exclusions Service can help you prepare your appeal and assist you with references to the relevant legislation and guidance.
Grounds to challenge a fixed-period exclusion
When you make representations, you should aim to explain why you feel the exclusion was unfair and unjustified. Below are some common grounds for challenging an exclusion.
The exclusion was a result of unmet needs
A child’s ‘disruptive’ or ‘challenging’ behaviour may be more accurately described as ‘distressed’ and could be an indication of unmet needs. There are prescribed, proactive steps that the school could have taken, to avoid the distressed behaviour and exclusion, but did not. For example, did your child’s school:
- identify and assess your child’s underlying SEND?
- implement a SEN Support Assess-Plan-Do-Review cycle when SEND were identified (see Extra help at school for further details)?
- consult the Local Offer and engage professionals from outside of the school for any complex needs or advice?
- ask the local authority (LA) to make an assessment of your child’s education, health and care (EHC) needs?
- call for an early/emergency annual review, if your child already has an EHC plan?
- arrange autism training for staff to ensure the school has a better understanding of autism and use (agreed) strategies or reasonable adjustments (see Disability discrimination in schools)?
If the school didn’t take any or all of these steps – duties that are set out in the SEND code of practice and the statutory guidance on exclusion – you may like to highlight this in your representations. This could show that the exclusion could have been prevented if the school had understood and met your child’s needs.
The exclusion was a result of distressed behaviour
If your child was excluded for a ‘physical assault’ as a result of distressed behaviour, you may like to highlight that your child had no intention of harming anyone. Rather, due to feeling overwhelmed, anxious and distressed, they experienced a loss of control or ‘meltdown’ – a fight or flight response.
It can be helpful to remind professionals that behaviour is a form of communication. No child wants to be unhappy or anxious. They often feel lost, confused or simply cannot cope. Focusing on and disciplining the manifesting behaviour – rather than identifying and addressing the sources of their anxiety – is ultimately missing the point and adversely affects the child’s education and wellbeing.
If the headteacher has suggested that your child’s exclusion was to ensure the safety of pupils and/or staff, you might be able to claim that you’ve not seen any evidence to support this. For example, that you’re not aware of an individualised risk assessment having been carried out and haven’t been asked to contribute to one.
‘Health and safety issues must not be used inappropriately to avoid making a reasonable adjustment. Schools should avoid making uninformed assumptions about health and safety risks’. (Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Technical Guidance for Schools (England))
The impact of the exclusion wasn’t taken into account
You might like to make the governors aware of the impact the exclusion has on your child’s education and wellbeing, particularly in terms of their mental health. For an autistic pupil, exclusion can feel like an official notification that they’re not welcome at the school. This can adversely affect their self-confidence and in some cases may lead to anxiety, stress and mental health issues.
The statutory guidance on exclusion was not followed
Read through the Department for Education’s statutory guidance on exclusion to see if the school followed correct procedures before, during and after exclusion.
- My child didn’t do what they’re accused of. The headteacher should be convinced that it’s more likely than not that your child did what was alleged (paragraph 8).
- The exclusion was disproportionate. For example, a five-day exclusion for an incident in which no-one was hurt could be considered excessive. As exclusion is the most serious sanction the school can use, the headteacher would need to be convinced that the negative impact it’s likely to have on your child is justified (paragraph 6).
- My child’s version of events was not taken. Where practical, the headteacher should give the pupil a chance to give an account of an incident before taking the decision to exclude. For an autistic pupil, reasonable adjustments must be made. For example, to avoid them simply confessing in order to escape the situation, allowing your child to draw pictures of the sequence of events and/or allowing a teaching assistant to take down their account (paragraph 17).
- My child has been subject to bullying at break times and this triggered the incident. The headteacher should consider any contributing factors that are identified after an incident of poor behaviour, such as bereavement, bullying, or other triggers (paragraph 18).
- The headteacher has excluded my child for a non-disciplinary reason. It’s unlawful to exclude a pupil simply because they have additional needs or a disability that the school feels unable to meet (paragraph 13).
- My child’s exclusion has been extended. Extending a fixed-period exclusion is unlawful. A further fixed-period exclusion can be issued, but only in exceptional cases, usually where further evidence has come to light. If this happens, you may want to state that you’re not aware of any new evidence that might suggest that a longer exclusion is warranted (paragraph 3).
- The headteacher has discussed the exclusion with a governor (who is on the discipline committee) prior to the meeting. The governors should not discuss the exclusion with any party outside the meeting (paragraph 61).
The exclusion amounts to disability discrimination
You might like to consider whether your child’s exclusion amounts to disability discrimination.
Characteristics of autism include dislike of change, which often leads to anxiety or other forms of distress (including aggression) and being unusually intolerant of people entering their personal space.
Your child is excluded for an incident in a lunchtime queue. There had been a sudden unexpected change to the order that the classes went into the lunch hall and other children had been pushing into the line. In this instance, you might argue that your child’s response – lashing out – was a direct consequence of their autism.
Even if it’s difficult to show that your child’s behaviour was a manifestation of their autism, you may be able to argue that it was triggered by difficulties they face that are linked to their autism. So, if an incident occurred at break time, you could suggest that your child’s difficulties with social interaction, which are linked to autism, affected their behaviour.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments is an ‘anticipatory duty’. This means that the school should have thought in advance about what your child might have needed. There may also have been reasonable adjustments that the school could have made to avoid the incident. For example, they may have agreed to provide one-to-one support at break times which, on this occasion, was not done.
We recently helped bring about a tribunal ruling that means schools and colleges must have made appropriate reasonable adjustments for autistic pupils, aged under 18, before they can exclude them. The judge stated: “To my mind it is repugnant to define as ‘criminal or anti-social’ the effect of the behaviour of children whose condition (through no fault of their own) manifests itself in particular ways so as to justify treating them differently from children whose condition has other manifestations.” (C&C v The Governing Body of a School, The Secretary of State for Education (First Interested Party) and The National Autistic Society (Second Interested Party) (SEN)  UKUT 269 (AAC)
Reasonable adjustments can include allowing an autistic pupil to:
- have access to a ‘quiet’ area or separate workstation
- wear ear defenders to minimise sensory sensitivities
- use an exit card to leave the classroom when feeling overwhelmed
If you feel that your child’s exclusion amounts to disability discrimination, as well as making representations to governors, you can also make a claim of disability discrimination to the First-tier Tribunal (special educational needs and disability). You can read our information about how to do this How do I appeal my child's exclusion to the First-tier Tribunal
Preparing for the meeting with the governors
Here are some things you can do to prepare for the meeting:
- Ask for copies of your child’s school record before the meeting. If you can’t get hold of this, make a subject access request.
- Read any reports that have been written about your child. Highlight any difficulties that your child faces that are linked to their autism diagnosis and which are related to the incident(s) that led to the exclusion. Also, highlight any recommended strategies that weren’t used, but could’ve de-escalated the incident or prevented it from happening.
- List any steps that the school could’ve taken to avoid exclusion, but did not.
- Prepare a written representation: a clear and concise set of arguments backed up by evidence, where possible, that will help you to make a strong case in the meeting.
- Make a list of the key points from your written representation and any questions you want answered.
- Use this list during the meeting and tick off points as they’re discussed.
- Try to get your written representation and other documents to the clerk of governors at least five school days before the meeting. If this is difficult, let the clerk know when you will be sending it.
- If there’s someone else you think should be at the meeting, such as a teaching assistant, ask if they can be there.
- Ask a friend, family member, representative, or someone you know with knowledge of special educational needs to go to the meeting with you. Ask them to take notes and prompt you if necessary. Let the school know in advance who you’ll be bringing to the meeting.
During the meeting
- If you don't understand anything during the meeting, ask for it to be explained again. A lot of jargon and abbreviations are used in education, but this can have the effect of excluding a parent from a discussion.
- Don't feel pressured to agree to anything there and then.
- Remember that the governors must give proper consideration to your views.
- If tensions arise during the meeting, remind everyone that the governors must consider the interests and circumstances of your child, including the circumstances in which they were excluded.
- By referring to your written representation and evidence, give detailed reasons why you think your child’s exclusion was unjustified. Emphasise your main points and challenge the school's key arguments.
- Make sure that you’ve made all the points that you wanted to. If in doubt, repeat them.
- You should be given the chance to ask questions of the headteacher and other staff who are present. Be careful to ask closed – yes/no – questions, to ensure that the focus remains on things that could’ve been done, but weren’t. For example, rather than ask, ‘What support did my child get?’ you might ask, ‘Was the teaching assistant in the playground supporting my child at the time of the incident?’ Ideally, you would ask questions that you already know the answers to, and which will support your argument.
- If you feel the meeting isn’t being conducted fairly, you can object and ask the clerk to make a note of your objection in the minutes. Issues that you might object to include:
- the governors not giving you enough time to speak and to make your case
- the governors not making reasonable adjustments to allow your child’s views to be heard
- the meeting being conducted in a threatening and adversarial manner
- the meeting being hard for the lay person, such as a parent, to understand
- it becoming clear that the governors have had conversations with the headteacher about the exclusion prior to the meeting.
After the meeting
The governors must let you know their decision in writing without delay: either delivering it by hand, post or email. You can also ask for a copy of the meeting minutes.
A note of their decision will be added to your child’s school record.
If you feel that your child’s fixed-period exclusion amounts to disability discrimination, you also have the right to make a claim against disability discrimination to the First-tier Tribunal (special educational needs and disability, also known as the First-tier Tribunal (SEND).
You can also get further help from our School Exclusions Service
As relationships between parents and schools can become fractured following school exclusion, you may find it useful to refer to the Autism Education Trust (AET) guide Working together with your child’s school, and our information on Working together and resolving differences.
This resource was produced by The National Autistic Society for The Autism Education Trust with funding from The Department for Education.