Admissions and Exclusions of Pupils with Special Educational Needs

Anne Wilkin, Kay Kinder, Felicity Fletcher-Campbell, Kate Ridley, Tamsin Archer

01 February 2005

Research report available to download from DFE

This research project, which was carried out between October 2003 and November 2004, aimed to address a lack of empirical evidence surrounding the admission and exclusion of pupils with special educational needs (SEN). While the relevant legislation and government targets are directed towards the equal treatment of pupils, regardless of their level of ability or particular need, and the government is positively promoting inclusion, there was yet unease, illustrated largely in anecdotal evidence, some case-study work, and other evidence, that some vulnerable children were disadvantaged by schools’ policies. The research explored schools’ admissions and exclusions policies and practices with regard to pupils with SEN, in order to consider whether this was indeed the case.

Key Findings

Overall, the research found no evidence in the case-study schools of systematic discrimination or unfavourable treatment of pupils with SEN in the annual admissions process. Schools did not have an opportunity to do this, as information about pupils’ needs was not available when the admissions criteria were being applied.

  • Pupils with statements. All schools respected the legal position regarding the admission of pupils for whom the school was named on the statement. Admissions for these pupils were often decided in advance of those of their peers so that schools had time to prepare provision.
  • Pupils with SEN but no statement. Less favourable treatment was possible with the casual admission of pupils with SEN but no statement (at school action or school action plus) - a group that is expanding with the reduction, nationally, in the proportion of pupils issued with new statements. In these cases, schools could try to dissuade parents from seeking admission to the school for their child. Schools that were not full had less leeway to refuse admission and generally did not do this.
  • Reluctance to admit a pupil with SEN usually occurred when schools considered that they already had a high proportion of pupils with SEN, and/or they could not cope with a particular profile of needs, and that they had inadequate financial resources (within their delegated budget) for meeting the needs of the pupil.
  • Schools thought that many of their casual admissions were of pupils with some degree of SEN. As support is generally planned prior to the new school year, this posed difficulties in the deployment of support and provision.
  • Admission Forums can monitor admission agreements in terms of their effectiveness in serving pupils with special educational needs. However, interviewees did not produce any evidence of this mechanisms being used; local authorities reported little or no monitoring, particularly of pupils with non-statemented SEN.


  • In the majority of case-study schools, exclusions were usually used as a ‘last resort’ after a series of strategies had failed, although a common exception was where the health and safety of a pupil, his/her peers, or staff was at risk. Because exclusion was considered a ‘last resort’, a few headteachers admitted to ‘resenting’ appeals, which questioned the effectiveness of the decision to exclude.
  • Pupils with SEN generally went through the same processes as, and were treated similarly to, other pupils but thresholds were often higher and a greater degree of unacceptable behaviour was tolerated before the exclusion process was initiated. Schools were particularly reluctant to exclude pupils in cases where they felt adequate alternative provision was not available.
  • The case-study schools generally felt that exclusion was rarely the result of a pupil’s SEN. However, some interviewees referred to pupils acting out because of learning difficulties. There was considerable debate as to whether ‘behaviour difficulties’ were ‘special educational needs’ and difficulty in distinguishing between ‘naughtiness’ and an inability to behave appropriately.
  • Exclusion, per se, was not generally regarded as an effective strategy for directly improving/changing a pupil’s behaviour.
  • Unofficial exclusion - or sending a pupil home for a session ‘to cool off’ - was in use in some case-study schools but regarded as exceptional and only with parental cooperation and support.
  • Staff in PRUs commented on the difficulties they faced educating ‘difficult’ and vulnerable pupils in an unstable environment characterised by serial admissions and exits. Staff in PRUs highlighted the very different approaches schools took to passing on information about pupils. Staff in PRUs recognised that the small-group, intimate environment of a PRU, with the opportunity of a high degree of interaction with adults, suited some pupils who had had difficulties in an ordinary mainstream school.
  • Successful reintegration following exclusion was regarded as depending on pupil cooperation and motivation, rigorous planning, and a clear programme for re-entry, support and monitoring. Pupils deemed the hardest to reintegrate were those with statements for syndromes such as Aspergers, when disruption to routine was particularly difficult. Parental involvement was considered critical to supporting behaviour management and reintegration if exclusion was necessary.

Related Titles

Admissions and exclusions of pupils with special educational needs , Admissions and exclusions of pupils with special educational needs , Admissions and exclusions of pupils with special educational needs , Local authorities' perceptions of how parents and young people with special educational needs will be affected by the 2011 Green Paper , Alternative provision for young people with special educational needs , Changes to the Funding of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Provision