Autistic pupils twice as likely to be excluded from school

25 April 2022

An investigation into the causes and implications of exclusion for autistic children and young people, carried out by the University of Birmingham’s Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER), found that autistic pupils are twice as likely to be regularly and unlawfully excluded from school for a fixed term than those who do not have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

In its report — available here — ACER highlights that over the last five years every region in England has seen an increase in the number of school exclusions for pupils on the autism spectrum of between 45% and 100%.

It argues that this is due, among other things, to the failure of staff to make reasonable adjustments for students, inadequate systems and policies as well as budget cuts.

ACER Director Professor Karen Guldberg said: “These are unusual times in terms of restricted budgets and the impact of Covid-19, which has exacerbated this issue. However, we need a co-ordinated and concerted effort by school leadership, staff, specialist services and families to help children stay in school and progress.”

The report highlights that many autistic adults were still emotionally affected by exclusion, even in their 40s and 50s, with many feeling a sense of injustice and anger. Some found that being excluded had a negative impact on their later successes or that they had to work even harder to catch up.


ACER makes a number of recommendations to policymakers, local authorities and educators, including that they should:

  • provide national and individual school guidance on exclusion policy related to autism and more broadly on SEN and SEMH

  • create good practice guidelines on how and what to communicate to families and pupils at each stage of the exclusion process, to ensure essential information is passed on at appropriate times

  • make it a legal requirement for schools to use a specific code for recording absence due to pupils being on part-time timetables

  • provide clearer guidance to schools as to the decision process they should be undertaking when making exclusions (justifying their reasons)

  • provide guidance on how senior leadership should be including statements on SEND and autism within school behaviour policies and how to train their staff on the matter

  • introduce greater independent monitoring of schools’ exclusion processes and interventions when illegal exclusions occur.