The Issue: School Exclusion

IPPR Research

The Difference was born from a year’s research into school exclusion and the teaching workforce.  The research was published in October 2017 by think tank IPPR, with a preface by Edward Timpson OBE, the former Children’s Minister.

This IPPR research answered the key questions:

  • How big is the problem of school exclusion?

  • Who gets excluded?

  • What happens to excluded pupils?

  • Why is exclusion in England rising?

  • How can developing the teaching workforce help change this story?

The Making The Difference IPPR report is the most comprehensive study of school exclusion in England.  You can read a 60-second summary or the full report to answer questions you might have about exclusion.

The Key Findings:

  • School exclusion is a murky and growing problem. Our report outlined methods of unofficial exclusion, alongside the growing numbers of official exclusions, arguing that the problem of school exclusion is much greater than previously recognised. Over 50,000 pupils in England are in provision for excluded pupils.

  • School exclusion is a social mobility failure.  We highlighted the vulnerability of excluded pupils: more likely to live in poverty, to interact with social services, and ten times more likely to have recognised mental health needs.

  • School exclusion is costly for the individual and society.  We identified poor outcomes associated with exclusion.  Less than 2% of excluded learners get a good pass in English and maths; 1 in 2 is immediately unemployed and out of education at age 16; and there is a strong link with criminal involvement – half of the prison population are estimated to have been excluded at school.  IPPR calculated the lifetime cost to the state: over £2.9bn for last year’s cohort of officially excluded young people.

  • The schools serving excluded pupils need more support in teacher recruitment and training.  The majority of exclusions are of pupils close to sitting their GCSEs.  Yet our report found that excluded pupils were twice as likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher, and twice as likely to have a supply teacher.  Meanwhile, a recruitment crisis for the leaders working with these teachers has seen vacancies double between 2011 and 2016.

  • Mainstream schools require more specialist leadership of inclusion. We found that headteachers wanted specialist staff who could work effectively with other agencies, and who could train front-line teaching staff to support vulnerable students.  1 in 2 school leaders say their teachers cannot recognise behaviour linked to mental health problems. 

  • There is appetite for a new specialist leadership programme to tackle exclusion. We commissioned a YouGov survey, revealing that 1 in 3 teachers were interested in a new route into specialist school leadership. The Difference Leaders programme will recruit great teachers to senior leadership vacancies in schools for excluded pupils. Through a two-year post and wrap-around training and support, Difference Leaders will lead capacity-building in their placement school. After two years, they will have the tools to become specialist mainstream leaders, reducing exclusion up-stream. Some of the biggest multi-academy trusts told IPPR researchers that they were keen to hire Difference Leaders into posts in their mainstream schools – positioning them to become system leaders in evidence-led inclusion.

Case study: Khadija/Jenni’s Story

Khadija was asked to leave her mainstream school in Year 9. She arrived at her AP school with no records. Throughout her first year there, she was known as Khadija. Her mother had converted her to Islam and changed her birth name, after a new boyfriend had moved in with the family.
Khadija did not smile, make eye contact or engage in class. On her first day at the AP school, teachers noticed signs of self-harm and prompted an urgent referral to social care and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). An investigation into the family produced evidence that both Khadija and her brother were subject to child protection orders in two boroughs and her mother had a history of moving them with no forwarding address to avoid agency involvement. Khadija and her brother were witness to domestic violence at home.
Although her home life was not improving, Khadija began to settle in and enjoy her new school. Her attendance gradually improved and she developed relationships first with staff, and eventually with other students. After a year at the AP school, Khadija gradually became less aggressive and started to engage in her CAMHS sessions. At this point Khadija asked staff at the academy to start calling her by her original name, Jenni, which they did. Jenni opened up to staff about being bisexual and wanting to ‘come out’.
At home, her mother said that homosexuality was disgusting and she was banned from talking about it.
Jenni was particularly vulnerable at this point. She started missing school and engaging in risky, self-destructive behaviours. The school alerted social services when Jenni was seen by another student getting into a car with some older men. One day Jenni came in and had a knife in her bag, which was discovered by staff. She said that she had forgotten the knife was in there but that she had hidden it from her step-father, who had threatened to stab her and her brother. The school asked for an urgent referral from the local authority, saying that they believed Jenni’s life was in danger.
Jenni was taken into care and was placed with a foster carer with whom she could build a supportive relationship, and begin to process some of the abuse she had suffered in her birth family. At school, Jenni’s attendance returned to normal and she began to become more confident. She got a new haircut and some piercings, and became open and more comfortable about her sexual orientation, talking with other students about it. She stopped self-harming, and her academic attainment improved. Jenni did so well on her coursework that she was entered for higher papers at GCSE.
During her year and a half at the AP school, Jenni’s transformation was marked. Through a turbulent and complex time in her life, the AP school provided a safe and stable environment which supported her to achieve. Its staff were equipped to work collaboratively with other services, to help Jenni navigate the challenges she faced, and finish her education with a happier, healthier life ahead of her.


The Difference has given evidence from our IPPR research to: the House of Commons’ Education Committee; Commission on Youth Violence; All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime; City Hall’s Policy and Crime Commission; the Independent Timpson Review School Exclusion; Ofsted’s knife crime survey; the Centre for Social Justice’s Report on Alternative Provision; and others.

To read more about The Difference’s IPPR research, click here.

To ask The Difference to contribute to your research or media story, contact us.

Affected by the issue of exclusion?

Parents and carers occasionally contact The Difference about the issue of school exclusion. We are not specialists in supporting parents. You might find it useful to speak to Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) or The School Exclusion Project.