Empowering People, Launching lives

Exclusion ‘trauma’ and what needs to change

Author: Hannah Smith, Head of Fast Responder



16th November 2023 | 3 mins read

We are deeply saddened and extremely frustrated to read of the traumatic exclusions of Melissa, Lillymay and James from schools that were unable to meet their needs, and the lasting impact it has had for their families in a recent Sky News report.

Link to Sky News article

Regrettably, they are far from alone in their experience, with schools and Local Authorities across the UK struggling to respond effectively when experiencing ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ from SEN learners. In part this is due to the pressure from a lack of resources, inadequate funding, and specialist training, though it runs deeper than that. Too often we’re seeing examples that our education system is just not set up to enable many autistic children and pupils with SEN to succeed.

Learners receiving SEN support are 4 times more likely to be excluded than those receiving no SEN support[1]. The stark evidence of rising exclusion rates tells us that schools are struggling to meet need and ill-equipped to manage behaviour. A TES poll from 2022 showed that 80% of teachers and school leaders believe that autistic pupil’s education is being affected by a lack of teacher training in how to support them[2]. Despite the fact that there are over 180,000 autistic pupils in schools in England alone, with over 73% in mainstream settings[3], trainee teachers may spend as little as half a day in their training learning about supporting autistic children and managing behaviour[3], with the vast majority then left to learn the rest on the job.


Behaviour leading to exclusion

All behaviour has a function or purpose, including communication. Autistic people can have difficulty communicating their needs and feelings, which may result in them using behaviour to share how they feel. Behaviours that challenge are often the result of stress or anxiety building up, and an individual feeling overwhelmed. These behaviours can take many forms including screaming, kicking, property destruction and running away. It is so important to look at, and understand, why behaviours that challenge are occurring, so that the right support can be given to the individual – both in terms of them accessing education, and to meet their mental health needs. Without this understanding, behaviour is often misunderstood and misinterpreted with pupils labelled as ‘disruptive’. ‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’ was the most common reason given for all exclusions last year[4].


What needs to change for autistic children and young adults to access an education that meets their needs?

To reduce this national picture of school placement breakdown it is crucial that autistic children and young adults access learning in environments that are inclusive and supportive of their needs; with staff who are confident in teaching SEN pupils and have the strategies and resources in place to manage behaviour.

Education strategies need to shift to be more proactive rather than reactive in managing and avoiding exclusion. Investing in earlier intervention, training and upskilling staff to help ensure that schools and pupils don’t get to the point of crisis in the first place.

There must be a shift from a ‘one size fits all’ tick box approach, to look instead at the unique needs of each learner and the extra support they require in class to be set up to succeed. Difference needs to be celebrated and understood throughout the whole school community and reflected in school behaviour policies. The curriculum needs to be adapted to facilitate inclusion. Courses and qualifications need to be more readily available to teachers and support staff. More specialist school places are required to meet demand. Ultimately, there needs to be a shift in government policy to ensure the legal requirement for schools and Local Authorities to meet needs is implemented effectively and swiftly, so no learner is left behind.


BeyondAutism Fast Responder®

In response to the overwhelming need, BeyondAutism has established a unique new service – BeyondAutism Fast Responder® to overcome the challenges faced by schools in supporting pupils approaching, or at point of, crisis that can lead to placement breakdown. Pupils like Melissa, and so many others.

BeyondAutism Fast Responders® have all the tools, training and resources needed for a school to succeed in averting placement breakdowns and can respond with ‘immediate’ intervention within 24 hours to provide support and wrap-around care to the pupil, staff and school. Support which is solution focused, with the child’s needs and outcomes at the heart of decision making. 96% of pupils in our pilot year remained in their local school with no further suspensions.

If you work in a school or Local Authority that is struggling with SEN exclusions, we can help. Please get in touch for a free consultation to learn more about our service and models or 020 3031 9702.

If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by the school placement breakdown of an autistic learner, we’d like to hear from you. By sharing your experience and views in our stakeholder consultation you can help us understand where we can make the biggest difference in our 2025-2030 strategy. You can take the survey and find more information here: ‘Beyond25’ Stakeholder Consultation – BeyondAutism


[1] Government Data. Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England; Academic Year 2021/22. Accessed 15.11.23 

[2] Tes, Lack of teacher training ‘hitting autistic pupils’ education’. Accessed 16.11.23

[3] NAS Education report 2023. Accessed 16.11.23 

[4] Institute for Public Policy Research. Making the Difference 2017. Report by Kiran Gill, with Harry Quilter-Pinner and Danny Swift. Accessed 15/11/23 

Registered Charity No. 1082599. Registered in England and Wales Ltd by guarantee No. 4041459 Registered Office: Ashurst LLP, London Fruit & Wool Exchange, 1 Duval Square, London, E1 6PW