Bristol School Exclusions
  • Number of Fixed Term Exclusions in Bristol drops
  • Bristol is 29th worst Local Authority for Fixed Term Exclusions out of 156 Local Authorities in England
  • Send failings contribute to high levels of Fixed Term Exclusions
  • One Bristol secondary school has very high rates of exclusion
  • Highest rates of primary school exclusions hit areas of deprivation
  • Pupils from black backgrounds and Gypsy Roma have high rates of FTE
  • Statistics do not include data on unlawful exclusion
  • Alternative Provision overspend reflects Bristol’s exclusion statistics

The new statistics for school exclusions from the Department for Education (DfE) dropped online in July this year. They show that the number of Fixed Term Exclusions in Bristol during the academic year 2018/19 fell compared to the previous year’s statistics. Whilst on the surface this would appear to be good news for the city, the reality is a far more complex picture.

There are three main types of school exclusions: Fixed Term Exclusions (FTE) Permanent Excluxions (PEX) and unlawful exclusions.

When an FTE is issued to a child, they are not allowed on the school site for a defined period of time. They are issued when a pupil is deemed to have done something significantly wrong against the school’s behaviour policy. Only a head teacher or a member of staff deputising for a head teacher is allowed to issue an FTE. They are short term in duration and governed by specific laws. Parents or carers must always receive a letter giving information about the exclusion, including when it starts and ends.

A PEX is is given in the most serious situation and stops a pupil from returning to school – unless they are reinstated by governors. A PEX can be challenged by parents and carers through the First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) if there are concerns an education setting has breached the Equality Act 2010.

An unlawful exclusion, also known as an informal exclusion, occurs when an education setting sends a pupil home without a formal FTE being issued. The parent does not receive paperwork for this. This is often done when pupils with Special Educational Needs and or Disabilities (SEND) are struggling to access the school day. Often, parents or carers are unaware that this is unlawful or realise there are statutory regulations regarding exclusions. In other cases, the family may not want an exclusion on their child’s record or feel pressured to agree with the request to take the child home.

Parents or carers of pupils who have been excluded should always take independent advice. This might be to check the exclusion has been done properly and what steps can be taken to avoid the situation from repeating. It could be that the child or young person needs more support with their education than they are receiving.

Out of 156 Local Authorities across the country, Bristol came in 29th place for the number of FTEs it was issuing. The city only issued 9 PEX last year.

The table below shows the number and rate of PEX and FTE in Bristol from the academic years 2015/16 up to and including 2018/19. Due to the nature of informal exclusions being unlawful, there is no way to measure how many occur in Bristol each year, but they are well documented by parents and carers in the city’s Send community. Lunchtime exclusions are not included in exclusion statistics.

Across special schools, state-funded primary and secondary, FTE dropped after a sharp rise in 2017/18. PEX also dropped and dramatically so on 2015/16 numbers. But where PEX dropped, FTE numbers went up.

Rates of school exclusion in Bristol

Further issues with school exclusion in Bristol can be found in the city’s high use of Alternative Provision. The Bristol AP table below shows that again, FTE have dropped in these settings, but they are now being issued to pupils as young as 5 and 6 years of age when in previous years, none were issued in that age group at all.


AP is used for children and young people when they cannot be educated in school. This may be due to school exclusion, being too unwell to attend school, anxiety based school refusal or other barriers to education making them vulnerable pushed-out learners. AP can be arranged by local authorities or schools themselves. Pupils may leave their mainstream school to attend AP or they may remain on roll for dual registration. AP does not have to be Ofsted registered but if it’s not, it must meet specific guidelines to avoid operating as an illegal school. AP has been identified as a method of off rolling by England schools – attempts to remove a pupil from school’s roll without a PEX.

There are complicated issues with AP in Bristol. In recent years, the city had the highest spend on AP outside of London. In July 2020 Cabinet, AP was on the agenda due to an overspend.

The original Alternative Learning Provision (ALP) framework 2016-2021 created by Bristol City Council was estimated at £830,000 per year in its original commissioning plan. But the ALP framework has had a significant overspend, placing huge pressure on the High Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant and detailed in a report to Cabinet and signed off by Executive Director of People Jacqui Jensen. The report stated that the ALP Framework overspend was £4.2m and needed £4m p.a max for the years 2021/21 and 2021/22. Councillor Anna Keen described the agenda item at Cabinet as a ‘brief ask’.

In the report, one of the reasons for the overspend was stated as: ‘High demand related in part to persistent high levels of fixed-term exclusions for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) – as identified in the November 2019 joint local area SEND inspection) – the high exclusion rates are an outcome that is being challenged by the Education & Skills Directorate, and will be further addressed in the upcoming Bristol Belonging Strategy.’

Ofsted and the CQC stated in their joint SEND inspection which took place at the end of 2019: ‘There are inconsistencies in the understanding of SEND by staff across schools and settings. These inconsistencies are as a result of staff in mainstream schools not receiving effective SEND training. Children and young people feel that, too often, staff in mainstream schools do not see past their disability and have a ‘blanket view’ of what it means to have SEND.’

The report did praise the ‘significant reduction’ in the number of pupils with Send who had been permanently excluded from school.

But also stated: ‘The proportion of children and young people with SEND who receive a fixed-term exclusion is too high, as is the level of persistent absence. Local area leaders do not challenge school leaders well enough when there is evidence that they are not inclusive in their approach.’

AP is big business in Bristol with large sums handed over to both registered and unregistered AP provision.

One example from the ALP Framework below shows a charge of £60 per hour to work with students who have been permanently excluded or do not have a school place and do not have or are not being assessed for an EHCP. The costs escalate in line with the pupil’s difficulties – often exacerbated by a lack of early identification of Send, lack of early intervention, difficulties getting an EHCP and further failures to implement correct provision in settings.

Difficulties with Send and exclusions in Bristol potentially show in EHCP statistics. There are clear cases of parents removing pupils with Send from school to be home educated.

Delving deeper still, there are pupils of compulsory school age with an EHCP who are not in education or have needed alternative arrangements made by Bristol City Council or by parents away from a formal school environment.

EHCP not in education Bristol

Difficulty for disabled pupils being able to access education has not been helped by an increasing pupil population in Bristol, rising numbers of pupils needing special school places, but a lack of provision being built to accommodate numbers. Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, the number of pupils securing a place at special schools in Bristol grew by 218, yet only one additional school was opened in that time to meet the needs of growing numbers of pupils left without a school place.

This feeds into exclusion statistics for two reasons. Pupils end up waiting in mainstream schools for places to become available in specialist provision or the local authority decides to name a mainstream provision in a plan where specialist is clearly needed. Unsuitable schools are frequently named or a ‘type’ of specialist provision in the Section I of an EHCP due to a lack of capacity. If the unsuitable school cannot or will not meet needs, this can result in pupils with Send being hit with FTE.

Families have been forced to take their local authorities to First Tier Tribunal SEND to force places at special schools. Bristol and neighbouring local authorities then have additional pressure put on transport budgets, special schools have gone over pupil numbers and families are having to use independent special schools due to a lack of council provision.

Turner and Townsend acquired a £100,000,00 contract from Bristol City Council this summer to investigate sites to enable strategic planning regarding increasing the number of special schools in Bristol. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees opened the city’s new Turner and Townsend office in December 2019, saying at the time: “I’m delighted to be opening Turner & Townsend’s new offices in Temple Point. Their commitment to supporting our city and our workers is clear, and these new offices will open up more collaborative and inclusive business opportunities.”

During the academic year 2018/19, a total of 2,455 pupils not on a school’s SEN register received a FTE. During the same year, 366 pupils with an EHCP received an FTE as did 1,662 pupils with SEN provision. This meant that in Bristol last year, 2028 pupils with Send received an FTE. Nearly half of all FTE over the academic years in the table below were given to pupils with Send. This points to poor levels of inclusion impacting on the education of pupils with Send and systemic barriers amounting to disability discrimination in Bristol’s education system.

Of the 9 PEX in 2018/19, a total of 6 were given to pupils with SEN provision and just 3 to pupils with no identified SEN. Arguably, the pupils with SEN provision that were permanently excluded should have had an EHCP, but this is a historically difficult process to follow in Bristol due to the city’s Send failings.

Bristol SEN exclusions

The Send Code of Practice: 0- 25 years, defines Special Educational Needs (SEN) as occurring when a child or young person has a learning difficulty or disability requiring special educational provision to be made for them. The child would have ‘significantly greater difficulty’ with their learning than the majority of others the same age. Or, the child or young person may have a disability preventing them from making use of educational facilities provided in their mainstream settings.

The most common reason for PEX in England is persistent disruptive behaviour, accounting for 35 per cent of all reasons. Other common reasons include physical assault against a pupil at 13 per cent and physical assault against an adult at 10 per cent.

Persistent disruptive behaviour was also the main reason for all FTE in England, a total of 137,900 at 31 per cent. The next main reasons for FTEs were physical assault against a pupil at 16 per cent and verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult at 15 per cent.

The DfE lists the following reasons for exclusion and offers a description of behaviours which meet the criteria:

Reasons for school exclusion in Bristol

Missing from the above table is ‘other’. For every exclusion, schools must give a reason. Anything falling outside of the main categories may fall in ‘other’, but the DfE says this category should be used ‘sparingly’.

Persistent disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for FTE issued in Bristol secondary schools at 1258. This is closely followed by ‘other’ at 824, perhaps where all those incorrect shoes, inappropriate trousers and tidy hairstyles meet the media at the start of each academic year.

In primary school, physical assault against an adult is the main reason for an FTE being issued by a significant margin. Persistent disruptive behaviour was the second highest reasons for primary FTE followed by other at 142. But physical assault against a pupil is also responsible for very high numbers of FTE at 131.

The full list of permanent and FTEs for Bristol secondary schools for the academic year 2017/18 are in the table below:

And the full list of permanent and FTEs for Bristol secondary schools for the academic year 2018/19 are shown here.

Topping the list for a consecutive year is St Bernadette Catholic Secondary School, on Fossedale Avenue in Whitchurch. The school is the smallest in Bristol, with a current pupil headcount of 724, yet it issued 485 FTEs in 2018/19 and 691 in 2017/18 – that’s nearly one FTE per pupil on roll.

The Published Admission Number for the academic year 2021-2022 is just 150. Catholic children are given priority in the over subscription criteria, with tie-breaking places going to children attending specific Catholic primary schools in locations across the city as far away as Fishponds, St Jude’s Kingswood and Redfield.

The school describes itself in the banner strapline as ‘an outstanding Catholic school. Its 2018 Ofsted inspection classed the school as Good and a ‘calm and orderly place’. It says: ‘The implementation of the school’s new behaviour management policy has decreased fixed-term exclusions significantly’.

The school’s Excellent Behaviour at St Bernadette’s Policy mission statement opens: “Our Mission is to develop the whole person in a Catholic learning community, to provide a loving Christian environment and to strive for excellence, equality, justice and fairness.” And under its General Principles says ‘We are committed to providing an education for all pupils that is rooted in Gospel values, we promote British values and ensure that all pupils are encouraged to make a positive contribution and are prepared for life in modern Britain.’

The school states they ‘actively comply with equalities legislation’ and are ‘completely committed’ to improving outcomes for pupils by eliminating all forms of discrimination. But just a few sentences down, it also says: ‘the needs of the individual are considered in relation to the community and the rights of the individual are considered in relation to their responsibilities in the community; The Governing body expects good conduct and self-discipline with a clear regard for St Bernadette School’s authority from all pupils; Any decisions regarding poor behaviour are made in light of the Gospel values and seek to promote the dignity of the human person whilst maintaining the good order of the community.’

One clear trend in Junior School FTEs during 2018/19 is that they are in the main located in areas of deprivation. In the top twelve primary schools with the highest number of FTE, five are in East Central inner city Bristol very close together.

The Bristol exclusion statistics show that pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are more likely to receive a permanent exclusion. Last year also saw the number of children eligible for FSM receiving more FTE than those not eligible.

When it comes to the racial and ethnic diversity of Bristol, there are further equality issues at play. Statistics identify high levels of exclusion affecting pupils from black backgrounds, particularly from mixed race heritage, Black African heritage and Black Caribbean heritage.

Gypsy Roma statistics are shockingly high compared to the ‘headcount’ in Bristol, with 85 out of 104 pupils receiving an FTE, a number that has soared over one academic year.

Improvement Priority 4 on Bristol City Council’s Written Statement of Action (WSoA) to Ofsted and the CQC, aims to reduce the overall rate of Fixed Term exclusions for children and young people with EHCPs in line with the England average.

The reduction of FTE is tied into Bristol’s overall Send improvement in the WSoA, which states that by July 2021: ‘evidence of an improving culture is seen through a reduction in fixed term exclusions and improvment in attendance for children and young people with SEND.’


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