top of page

(UK) Whistleblower's shocking story of excluding special needs kids from school

Nov 16, 2023, Sky News: Pupils' exclusion 'trauma' revealed as some schools 'remove special needs students to protect results'
A whistleblower at a local authority says she has witnessed schools excluding children for having special educational needs or a disability they are unable to meet. In some cases, she says, teachers have talked about a "cull" being planned.

It seemed like a normal school day when Belinda went to pick up her seven-year-old daughter.

But when she arrived at Melissa's school, a teaching assistant said her daughter was in "huge distress", pulling things off the walls - and they needed to have a "hard conversation".

"I had no idea what was coming and could still hear that Melissa was distressed. The head said it was a permanent exclusion and she couldn't come back," Belinda said.

Similar cases are happening in schools elsewhere. Caroline, not her real name, holds a senior role in the education team at a local authority in England.

"Any child that looks slightly like they're going to be a problem, they're excluding them. The system's falling apart," she says.

Speaking on condition that we protect her identity, Caroline says some schools are excluding SEN (special educational needs) children to protect their results.
Of all the children excluded from schools in England last year, 47% had some form of special educational needs, according to Department for Education figures.

Current government guidance to schools states that under the Equalities Act it would be "unlawful" to exclude a pupil "simply because they have SEN or a disability that the school feels it is unable to meet". But that's exactly what Caroline says she witnessed first-hand.

Government spending on special needs support in mainstream schools, special schools and independent, privately run schools, has increased by a third in just the last couple of years, to £10.5bn [$13B] a year.
The Department for Education says its investment in what is known as the "high needs budget" has risen….

In Belinda's case, her daughter's meltdowns led to a series of short exclusions, but she says she had no idea the school would ever make it permanent. Melissa is on the waiting list to be assessed for autism.

Melissa's headteacher told Belinda her daughter had attacked another child and kicked and punched a teacher.

Belinda says she collapsed on the floor upon hearing the news….

"After the exclusion Melissa wouldn't eat, wet herself most days and wanted to go back to school."

Belinda launched an appeal against the exclusion and a month later received a letter from the school's governing body.

"The governors found a host of failures in how the behaviour policy was applied and it was overturned. Luckily Melissa got a place at a fantastic pupil referral unit who have restored her trust in education," she said.

Now, Melissa is happily settled in a special school and has caught up on her lost learning….

Caroline's job involves finding school places for children with SEN and disabilities, as well as children who've been permanently excluded from school or are at risk of permanent exclusion.
"Every day there's a new kid that comes to us," says Caroline. The demand on special schools - which cater for children who have physical difficulties and/or problems with learning - is now so great she is having to place these children in independent schools at a typical cost of £95,000 per year. There are not enough special school places….
In the last three years following the pandemic, she says, demand for her department's services has tripled. Meanwhile, secondary schools are struggling to provide suitable support.

The preferred reason for permanent exclusions, she says, is "persistent disruptive behaviour"….

Councillor Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, warned councils are facing "significant challenges" due to an "ever-increasing rise in demand" for support for children with special educational needs and has called for the government to announce more funding for this area in the upcoming Autumn Statement….

Stratford-Upon Avon High School, where Lillymay used to attend, said it has "extensive provision" for children with SEN and follows Department for Education guidance and other legal duties.

Headteacher Neil Wallace said he only excludes when other children could be harmed, for "serious or persistent breaches of the school's behaviour policy".

He also pointed to an increasing number of children with special educational needs at a time when there are cuts to funding and social services, along with the government's emphasis on an academic curriculum that isn't suitable for all children.
In 2021/22 there were 6,495 exclusions. Nearly half - 47% - involved children with some kind on of special educational need. The most common reason for exclusion was "permanent disruptive behaviour"….

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are clear that permanent exclusion should only be used when absolutely necessary, as a last resort for behaviour management, and should not mean exclusion from education.

"Councils are responsible for providing the right support for children in their areas but we know there is more to do, which is why we are urgently delivering against our plans published earlier this year to create a fairer special educational needs and alternative provision system.

"We are also investing £2.6bn [$3.2B] between 2022 and 2025 in special and alternative provision places, and funding for those with complex needs is rising to £10.5bn [$13B] in 2024-25 - an increase of over 60% since 2019-20."

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "We would be very concerned if schools were inappropriately excluding children with SEND….

"Increasing numbers of special schools are over-subscribed and the dire shortage of places means some pupils are inappropriately placed in mainstream settings," he said.

"These schools may lack the necessary resources and specialist staff, and often do not receive the full funding a special school place would generate."


bottom of page