Students with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are still five times more likely to be excluded from school than students without an EHC plan and figures for those with undiagnosed SEND are likely to be much higher but are not currently recorded. 

Autistic students are the largest SEND group to be excluded. 

For many of these pupils the reason for the exclusion will be because of unmet SEND need, although others will be well supported by the mainstream school but may need a more specialist school place or alternative provision which is better matched to their needs.

It is unacceptable for the disproportionate exclusions of SEND students to continue. Reviewing the DfE behaviour and exclusions advice, alongside the planned SEND Review provides an ideal opportunity for the Government to boost the support for schools. We need a more inclusive system which takes a more holistic, whole child approach towards behaviour support. We need co-operation and outreach from specialist settings to support staff in mainstream settings.   

To achieve this the government will need to:

  • Ensure timely access to SEND assessment and diagnosis through increased funding in the system
  • Fund CAMHS properly so that children and young people can be seen quickly at the time of most need and schools can signpost with confidence that a student will receive mental health support
  • Create a high-quality training offer around SEND and behaviour within the Early Career Framework and ensure schools have the time and capacity for regular behaviour/SEND CPD for all classroom-based staff
  • Allow schools flexibility around the curriculum offer for SEND students and reduce assessment pressures
  • Ensure funding levels allow schools to maintain and increase support staff and pastoral staff
  • Support SENCOs by considering the recommendations of the National SENCO workload survey:  

Preventing and reducing the permanent exclusion of SEND students

NEU Reviewing your school behaviour policy advice

Following the Covid disruption to learning and social development, we advise that every setting should review its behaviour policy.

  • Could behaviour leading to exclusions be related to undiagnosed SEND?
  • What can be changed to ensure SEND is being recognised and assessed in a timely manner?
  • When pupils need an IEP review and personalised plans, do staff know how to request?
  • Have regular meetings with students and their parent/carer taken place?
  • Has a review of staff CPD/training on behaviour and SEND taken place?
  • What extra learning or emotional support do pupils need and how is this actioned?
  • How are staff supported to teach learning behaviours alongside managing behaviours?
  • If students are placed in a removal room has their SEND been considered?

Why is a belonging approach important for creating inclusive schools/colleges?

The Covid pandemic has had an impact on student mental health and disrupted learning for many SEND students. This means it’s important to create school environments in which a sense of belonging is emphasised for all students.

The strongest factor impacting a feeling of belonging for pupils is teacher support (Hattie 2009).

 Students who feel that they have positive relationships with school staff will have a greater sense of belonging.  The UCL/ NEU research on ‘Place and belonging in schools: Why it matters today’ found practical examples of how intentional whole-school practice can help create a climate of welcome and belonging in school. A purposeful approach which brings everyone on board, enriches the lives of all concerned and sets the school on a positive and upward trajectory. 

In the schools visited, the behaviour ‘agenda’ is owned by everyone. Staff and pupils know what it is; have helped shape it; think it’s fair. There is a common language and a shared set of practices.

Entering schools which embrace a belonging approach to behaviour management, is a warm and welcoming experience. The research found:

  • Little about ‘tough’ sanction-based behaviour policies which depend on exclusion and social isolation; and
  • Much about learning and interventionist and relational approaches based on valuing individuals and aimed at creating a sense of place, belonging and agency.

The researchers also found that schools which used a ‘belonging’ approach had:

  • Improved behaviour
  • Fewer exclusions
  • Better staff retention
  • Improved academic outcomes

Why are SEND support staff so essential?

The loss of support staff in schools due to inadequate government funding increases the risk of suspensions and permanent exclusions unless action is taken now to increase funding for schools to maintain and increase support staff capacity.

SEND support staff

  • provide essential additional support for SEND students
  • are often the key liaison between school and families of SEND students – and have played a key role in supporting home –school relationships during Covid
  • have faced large scale redundancy due to government funding cuts to school budgets which has left many SEND students without the small group and 1:1 support that provided the opportunity for them to thrive in mainstream education
  • need fair contracts, pay and recognition by government of the important role they play in working with SEND students

Sharing good practice

We are seeking case studies about what schools are doing to support SEND students who are at risk of exclusion or to work with agencies or partners or PRUs to prevent exclusions.  Please send examples to