Academic Year 2020/21

Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England

This is the latest dataNational statistics
UK statistics authority quality mark
Published
Next update

Introduction

This publication presents statistics on suspensions and permanent exclusions within the 2020/21 academic year across state-funded schools.

The publication includes data on:

  • reasons schools report for suspending and excluding pupils
  • suspensions and permanent exclusions by pupil characteristics
  • permanent exclusion independent review panels

The data has been collected in the school census. Data for earlier years is also included.

This year's data includes the period in Spring term 2020/21, where restrictions meant that only key worker and vulnerable children were attending school in person, with others being educated remotely. Suspensions and permanent exclusions were possible throughout the full academic year but comparisons to previous years should be treated with caution.


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

The 2020/21 academic year

The figures presented in this publication cover the 2020/21 academic year. Like the previous year, this academic year was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were open to all pupils in the Autumn term, however during the Spring term schools were only open to key worker and vulnerable children from January for the first half term, before all pupils returned during the second half term. During this period online tuition was provided for pupils. Schools were then open to all pupils during the Summer term. 

As with 2019/20, while suspensions and permanent exclusions were possible throughout the academic year, these restrictions will have had an impact on the numbers presented and caution should be taken when comparing across years.

Facts and figures

There were 3,900 permanent exclusions in the 2020/21 academic year. This is over 1,000 permanent exclusions lower than in the 2019/20 academic year when there were 5,100 permanent exclusions and around half the number of permanent exclusions in the last full academic year before the pandemic (7,900 in 2018/19). This gives a permanent exclusions rate of 0.05, this is the equivalent of 5 permanent exclusions for every 10,000 pupils.

There were 352,500 suspensions in the 2020/21 academic year. This is an increase from the previous year, when 310,700 suspensions occurred, but is still lower than pre-pandemic levels (438,300 in 2018/19). This gives a suspensions rate of 4.25, the equivalent of 425 suspensions per 10,000 pupils.

Suspension and permanent exclusions reasons

Data on the reason for suspensions and permanent exclusions has changed. Up to three reasons may now be recorded for each suspension or permanent exclusion. The most common reason across all permanent exclusions was persistent disruptive behaviour, recorded 1,500 times (against 39% of permanent exclusions). The same reason was also the most common across all suspensions, recorded 148,400 times (against 42% of suspensions).

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

You can view featured tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from the open data using our table tool


Permanent exclusions

The disciplinary powers that schools currently have, including suspension and permanent exclusion, remained in place throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. The statutory guidance on the suspension and permanent exclusion of pupils from local-authority-maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units is clear all decision must be lawful, rational, reasonable, fair and proportionate. Permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort.

Permanent exclusion rate definition 

A permanent exclusion refers to a pupil who is excluded and who will not come back to that school (unless the exclusion is overturned). This data only includes permanent exclusions which have been upheld by the governing body or Independent Review Panel (IRP), and not those which are still ongoing. The permanent exclusion rate is calculated as the number of permanent exclusions divided by the number of pupils (x100).

As with 2019/20, while permanent exclusions and suspensions were possible throughout the academic year, these restrictions will have had an impact on the numbers presented and caution should be taken when comparing across years.

The number of permanent exclusions has decreased

The number of permanent exclusions has decreased from 5,100 in 2019/20 to 3,900 in in 2020/21. In the last full academic year before the pandemic, 2018/19, there were 7,900 permanent exclusions. These reductions are seen across all school types. The number of permanent exclusions had previously been stable from 2016/17 to 2018/19, prior to the pandemic

The overall rate decreased to 0.05 from 0.06, this is the equivalent of 5 in every 10,000 pupils. This rate was 0.10 in 2018/19.

National restrictions affected 2020/21, in particular in the Spring term when attendance was prioritised for key worker and vulnerable children. There were also restrictions in 2019/20 affecting the Spring term and Summer term.

Across all schools, permanent exclusions were highest in the Autumn term in 2020/21, when there were 1,700 permanent exclusions. This is a decrease from 3,200 in Autumn term 2019/20. There were 1,700 permanent exclusions in Summer term 2020/21.

The chart also shows the impact of national restrictions and school closures in the 2019/20 Summer term and also the 2020/21 Spring term where the number of exclusions decreased heavily. 

The most common reason recorded for permanent exclusions was persistent disruptive behaviour

Prior to 2020/21, a single reason could be recorded for each suspension and permanent exclusion. From 2020/21, up to three reasons could be recorded. These reasons were recorded without weighting or prioritisation. As such, the sum of the number of reasons will not match the total number of suspensions or permanent exclusions from 2020/21.

Further, the following new reasons for suspensions and permanent exclusions were added from 2020/21

  • Use or threat of use of an offensive weapon or prohibited item
  • Abuse against sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Abuse relating to disability
  • Inappropriate use of social media or online technology
  • Wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures in place to protect public health

As multiple reasons could be recorded, the table below and underlaying data refer to a total of 5,100 reasons given for exclusion, this relates to the reasons given for the 3,900 permanent exclusions that occurred overall.

The most common reason recorded for permanent exclusions was persistent disruptive behaviour. There were 1,500 permanent exclusions where this reason was recorded, 39% of all permanent exclusions. This was followed by physical assault against a pupil, with 900 permanent exclusions including this reason and physical assault against an adult, with 600 permanent exclusions including this reason

Suspensions

Suspension rate definition

Suspensions, previously known as 'fixed period exclusions', refers to when a pupil who is excluded from a school for a set period of time. A suspension can involve a part of the school day and it does not have to be for a continuous period. A pupil may be suspended for one or more periods up to a maximum of 45 school days in a single academic year. This total includes suspensions from previous schools covered by the exclusion legislation. 

The suspension rate is calculated as the total number of suspensions, divided by the total number of pupils (x100).

As with 2019/20, while suspensions and permanent exclusions were possible throughout the academic year, these restrictions will have had an impact on the numbers presented and caution should be taken when comparing across years.

The number of suspensions has increased, but remains lower than pre-pandemic

The number of suspensions has increased from 310,700 in 2019/20 to 352,500 in 2020/21. In the last full academic year before the pandemic, 2018/19, there were 438,300 suspensions.

National restrictions affected 2020/21, in particular in the Spring term when attendance was prioritised for key worker and vulnerable children. There were also restrictions in 2019/20 affecting the Spring term and Summer term.

Prior to the pandemic, the number and rate of suspensions had been increasing gradually, primarily driven by increases in secondary schools.

The increase in suspensions in 2020/21 is driven by an increase in suspensions in secondary pupils

Across school types, suspensions

  • increased for secondary pupils by 17%, from 253,300 to 296,200
  • decreased for primary pupils by 2%, from 47,300 to 46,200
  • decreased for special school pupils by 1%, from 10,200 to 10,000

The chart also shows the impact of national restrictions and school closures in the 2019/20 Summer term and also the 2020/21 Spring term where the number of suspensions decreased heavily. 

Across all schools, suspensions were highest in the Autumn term in 2020/21, when there were just under 160,000 suspensions, however the number of suspensions was lower than the previous Autumn term when there were nearly 180,000 suspensions. This pattern is seen across each school type. 

Suspensions in pupil referral units

The number of suspensions in pupil referral units has decreased, from 30,800 in 2018/19 to 21,700 in 2019/20 and 17,800 in 2020/21. This suspension rate in 2020/21 was 139.2, equivalent to 13,920 suspensions in the year for every 10,000 pupils.

Note: Numbers of suspensions and permanent exclusions for all school types include the total number of suspensions and permanent exclusions across the school year. Rates are calculated as a proportion of the headcount at January in that year. This may lead to higher rates for pupil referral units as pupils may have higher mobility between different settings.

The most common reason recorded for suspensions was persistent disruptive behaviour

Prior to 2020/21, a single reason could be recorded for each suspension and permanent exclusion. From 2020/21, up to three reasons could be recorded. These reasons were recorded without weighting or prioritisation. As such, the sum of the number of reasons will not match the total number of  suspensions or permanent exclusions from 2020/21.

Further, the following new reasons for suspensions and permanent exclusions were added from 2020/21

  • Use or threat of use of an offensive weapon or prohibited item
  • Abuse against sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Abuse relating to disability
  • Inappropriate use of social media or online technology
  • Wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures in place to protect public health

As multiple reasons could be recorded, the table below and underlaying data refer to a total of 410,500 reasons given for suspension, this relates to the reasons given for the 352,500 suspensions that occurred overall.

The most common reason recorded in 2020/21 was persistent disruptive behaviour. This reason was recorded for 148,400 suspensions, or 42% of suspensions. This is followed by physical assault against a pupil and verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult, both recorded against a fifth of suspensions. 

Number of pupils who were suspended

‘Pupils with one or more suspensions’ refer to pupil enrolments that had at least one suspension across the full academic year. Dual registered pupils with suspensions in multiple schools have each of their enrolments considered separately. This allows for schools to be held accountable for suspensions, as the suspensions are attached to enrolments at a particular school, not the individual pupil.

The total number of pupils with a suspension has increased from 154,500, an increase of 18% from 2019/20 to 2020/21. This increase is seen across all school types, with the largest increase in secondary schools. This means that the rate of pupils with a suspension has also increased, to 2.20, or 220 pupils in every 10,000.

Regional variation

Both suspension and permanent exclusion rates vary across regions and local authorities.

In line with the national trend, the rate of permanent exclusions has gone down across all regions,  while the rate of suspensions has increased in each region. 

Both the highest permanent exclusions and suspension rates are in the North East, at 0.08 and 6.97.  The lowest permanent exclusion rate is in the South East at 0.02 and the lowest suspension rate is in Outer London at 2.59.

The map below shows the same rates for suspensions and permanent exclusions for each local authority in 2020/21

Pupil characteristics

Suspensions and permanent exclusions peak at age 14

The permanent exclusion and suspension rates generally increase with age, and are highest at age 14 (0.18 and 12.38 respectively). This follows similar trends seen in recent years.

Boys continue to have higher permanent exclusion and suspensions rates than girls

Boys continue to have more than three times the number of permanent exclusions, with almost 3,000 exclusions, at a rate of 0.07, compared to almost 1,000 for girls (0.02).

Boys also account for more than twice the number of suspensions for girls, at 248,000 compared to 105,000. This equates to a suspension rate of 5.86 for boys compared to 2.58 for girls. 

Rates are higher among pupils eligible for free school meal (FSM)

The permanent exclusion rate for pupils eligible for FSM is 0.12, around four times higher than for those not eligible, at 0.03.

The suspension rate is also higher at 9.68 for pupils eligible for FSM, compared to 2.82 for those not eligible.

Rates are higher among pupils with special education needs (SEN)

The permanent exclusion rate for pupils with an education, health and care (EHC) plan is 0.08, and for pupils with SEN with no EHC plan (SEN support) is 0.15, compared to 0.03 for those without SEN.

The suspension rate is also higher at 12.98 for pupils with an EHC plan and 11.86 for pupils with SEN support, compared to 2.80 for those without SEN.

Rates vary by ethnicity 

Gypsy/Roma pupils continue to have the highest rates of permanent exclusions (0.18) and suspensions (15.00). Pupils of mixed White and Black Caribbean ethnicity have the second highest rate of permanent exclusion (0.12). Pupils from Traveller or Irish Heritage ethnic groups have the second highest rate of suspension (11.22).

Pupils in the Chinese ethnic group have the lowest rates of permanent exclusions and suspensions in 2020/21 

Exclusion reviews

Parents (and pupils if aged over 18) are able to request an independent review of a permanent exclusion. An independent review panel’s role is to review the decision of the governing body not to reinstate a permanently excluded pupil. The panel must consider the interests and circumstances of the excluded pupil, including the circumstances in which the pupil was excluded and have regard to the interests of other pupils and people working at the school.

The School Discipline (Pupil Exclusions and Reviews) (England) Regulations 2012 were amended to give school governing bodies and local authorities more time to review suspensions and permanent exclusions and to explicitly allow for meetings to be conducted via video- or tele-conference facilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. In response to coronavirus (COVID-19), some temporary changes were made which applied to school suspension and permanent exclusion between 1 June and 24 September 2020 (inclusive of those dates) and 25 September up until 24 March 2022.

The number of independent reviews lodged in 2020/21 was 330, a reduction from 430 in 2019/20 and just less than half the number seen in 2018/19, the last full academic year before the pandemic. This decrease is in line with the overall decrease in number of permanent exclusions.

The percentage of reviews lodged that were determined by a panel in 2020/21 was 95%, an increase from 89% in 2019/20 and higher than the final year before the pandemic (92% in 2018/19). 

59% of exclusions were upheld at the independent review panel, an increase from 55% in 2019/20.

Help and support

Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England statistics and data:

School Census Statistics Team

Email
schools.statistics@education.gov.uk

Telephone: School Census Statistics Team
0370 000 2288

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone
020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone
037 0000 2288