- governors, when talking about a school’s governors’ discipline/exclusions committee, or an academy’s trustees
- headteacher, to include both headteachers and principals
- parents, to include both parents and carers.
If your child has been permanently excluded, the headteacher must write to you without delay informing you of their decision, the reasons for it and your right to challenge it, also known as making representations, or submissions.
The governors, usually a discipline or exclusions committee, must consider the reinstatement of your child within 15 school days of receiving notice of the exclusion.
In the governors’ meeting you’ll have the chance to present your case in person and in writing, to explain to the governors why you think the exclusion was unjustified. Even if you’ve already decided that you do not want your child to return to the school, the governors must still consider whether your child should be officially reinstated.
Following the meeting, the governors can make one of two decisions. They can either:
- direct the reinstatement of your child immediately or on a particular date (i.e. decide that the headteacher’s decision was wrong), or
- decline to reinstate your child (i.e. decide that the headteacher made the correct decision, also known as upholding the headteacher’s decision).
Making written representations
To help you prepare your case for the governors’ meeting, you can make written representations: your reasons for disagreeing with the headteacher’s decision to permanently exclude your child.
To begin, 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.
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. At the end of this page, there’s a template that you can used to structure your representations.
Grounds to challenge a permanent exclusion
When you make representations, you should aim to explain why you feel the exclusion is unfair and unjustified. Below are some common grounds for challenging a permanent exclusion.
The criteria for permanent exclusion have not been satisfied
The decision to permanently exclude a pupil should only be taken:
- in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school's behaviour policy; and
- where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school. (paragraph 16, Department for Education (DfE) Exclusion Statutory Guidance, September 2017)
To justify a permanent exclusion, the headteacher should be convinced that both of these points have been satisfied.
This means that your child’s behaviour might be considered a serious breach of the school’s behaviour policy or, when taken together with other past incidents amount to persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy. However, the headteacher would also need to be convinced that allowing your child to remain in school would ‘seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school’.
In most cases, headteachers defend their decision to exclude an autistic pupil by stating that they need to ensure the safety of pupils and staff in the school. However, to justify that decision the school has to provide evidence, which would normally take the form of an individualised risk assessment.
The risk assessment should list:
- potentially harmful behaviours (such as biting, kicking, head-banging)
- how likely they are to occur (daily, weekly, termly, or has it only ever happened once)
- how dangerous they would be if they were to occur
- what the possible triggers might be.
It should also outline what strategies and interventions (also known as controls/measures) the school could employ to reduce those risks.
By carrying out a risk assessment the school might find that triggers to distressed behaviour can be removed or avoided by making ‘reasonable adjustments’. These are changes to the way things are usually done to help your child overcome their difficulties.
The risk assessment can also inform staff of the early warning signs, so that they can intervene earlier to avoid an escalation of behaviour.
You can ask for a copy of your child’s individualised risk assessment, if the school has produced one. Some questions that you might consider include:
- Do you think the school has accurately assessed the risks?
- Has it specified the triggers and types of situation where dangerous/aggressive behaviour occurs?
- Does the risk assessment specify proactive, early and reactive interventions to respond to your child’s behaviour?
- Has the school produced a behaviour management plan and risk management strategy?
- Is the focus of the risk assessment on your child’s disability-related behaviour?
- Is it using these as a basis for why he/she should be permanently excluded? If so, this treatment could amount to discrimination arising from disability.
- What reasonable adjustments has the school considered?
Having seen the individualised risk assessment or any other evidence the school provides, you may be able to show that the second part of the test for permanent exclusion has not been satisfied. In other words, allowing your child to remain in the school would not seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.
You may also be able to show that the first part of the test has not been satisfied either: that your child’s behaviour was not a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy. The headteacher would need to show that both parts are true. If you can show that one has not been satisfied, that’s enough to show that their decision cannot be justified.
Permanent exclusion has not been used as a last resort
One of the key points from the statutory guidance on exclusion is that permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort.
There are a number of steps that schools can take to avoid future exclusion (see the next section). If the school have not at least considered these steps, it’s unlikely that the headteacher would be able to argue that permanent exclusion has been used as a ‘last resort’.
The exclusion was a result of unmet needs
A child’s behaviour that is deemed disruptive or challenging may be more accurately described as distressed behaviour and can 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 special educational needs and disabilities (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. As mentioned above, this would also show that permanent exclusion was not a last resort.
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.
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 the correct procedures before, during and after exclusion. For example:
- As a child with SEND, my child is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exclusion. The headteacher should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding any pupil with an EHC plan (paragraph 23).
- 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 is disproportionate. For example, a permanent 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 the pupil 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. The headteacher may have revealed the real motivation for the exclusion in the letter or some other document (paragraph 13).
- My child’s exclusion has been converted from a fixed period exclusion to a permanent exclusion. It’s unlawful for a fixed-period exclusion to be converted into a permanent exclusion. A permanent exclusion can be issued to begin immediately after the end of the fixed period, 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 could not have been discovered at the time of your child’s first exclusion that might suggest that a permanent 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 permanent 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 work station
- 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 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 the governors decline to reinstate your child (uphold the headteacher’s decision to permanently exclude your child), you have the right to request an independent review panel (IRP) and for an SEN expert to attend. Details of IRP meetings can be found in our information on permanent exclusion.
If you feel that your child’s permanent 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).
Template for written representations
Below is a template you can use to help structure your written representations. Replace the bold text with details relating to your situation.
Written representations for the Governors’ Discipline/Exclusions
Committee Meeting on [date] to consider the permanent exclusion of my [son/daughter, Full name of your child, date of birth, year group and class/form]
These representations are written by [Your name, parent/carer] of [your child’s name] to challenge the permanent exclusion of [your child’s name] on [date of permanent exclusion] from [name of school].
- Background information relating to your child’s diagnosis and special educational needs and disability (SEND)
- Events leading to and beyond diagnosis
- Include aspects of the school’s support and education of your child that you were pleased with (particularly if you are seeking reinstatement)
- Events leading up to the exclusion
- Details of the incident
Grounds to challenge the permanent exclusion
See the information above and include reasons that apply to your situation. These could be:
- The test for permanent exclusion has not been satisfied
- Permanent exclusion has not been used as a last resort
- Exclusion as a result of unmet needs
- Exclusion as a result of distressed behaviour (the underlying reasons for the incident are a direct consequence, or at least linked to, your child’s autism)
- Impact of exclusion not taken into account
- The statutory guidance on exclusion has not been followed
- The permanent exclusion amounts to disability discrimination
- Your child’s account and views of the incident and their thoughts and feelings about the impact of the exclusion
- Conclusion and summary of why exclusion is unjustified and what you want to happen
You can also get further help from our School Exclusions Service.
This resource was produced by The National Autistic Society for The Autism Education Trust with funding from The Department for Education.