Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Expulsion (education)

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Expulsion, exclusion or withdrawing, refers to the removal/banning of a student from a school system or university for an extensive period of time due to a student persistently violating that institution's rules, or for a single offense of appropriate severity in extreme cases. Laws and procedures regarding expulsion vary between countries and states.


State sector

If a student(s) has been expelled from two schools, then any state school is legally allowed to refuse admittance of that student. (Schools on special measures may refuse to admit a student who has been expelled from only one school.) Therefore, a student who has been expelled from two schools might be totally removed from the state education system. As a result, it is rare for a pupil to be expelled (or permanently excluded) in the UK's state sector.

The exclusion of pupils is governed by the Education Act 2002.

The Secretary of State's guidance states that exclusion is a serious step. Exclusion should be used only in response to serious breaches of a school's discipline policy and only after a range of alternative strategies to resolve the pupil's disciplinary problems have been tried and proven to have failed; and where allowing the pupil to remain in school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of other pupils and staff, or of the pupil himself or herself.

In practice, a student can usually be subject to permanent exclusion for a total of five disciplinary breaches, for which the student does not have to receive formal 'warnings'. Depending on his or her offence, a child can be excluded from the school system within any range of time after his or her misdeed. Though the teaching staff may recommend a pupil to be expelled, only the headteacher is legally empowered to exclude a student; he or she is not permitted to delegate that power to another person, but if he or she is ill or otherwise unable to perform his or her duties, another staff member may become the acting headteacher and inherit the power to expel students.

When excluding a student, the headteacher must inform the pupil's parents of the duration of the exclusion (whether it be temporary or permanent), reasons for exclusion, and the procedures which a parent may take to make an appeal. The headteacher must also inform the local education authority of the circumstances surrounding permanent exclusions, fixed-term exclusions exceeding five days, and exclusions which result in a student being unable to take a public examination.

Reasons for expulsion

A headteacher might expel a pupil for a first or one-off incident of appropriate severity. For a single case of one of the following, a pupil can be expelled permanently for:

  • A serious act of violence, including actual or threatened violence against a staff member or another pupil
  • Possession of a weapon
  • A sexual offence, including sexual abuse and assault
  • A racially-aggravated offence
  • Severe hazing of another student
  • A drug offence, usually the supply of a controlled drug to other pupils (possession of a small amount of a 'soft drug' such as marijuana or cocaine is not normally considered sufficient grounds for expulsion)
  • Computer hacking
  • Vandalism
  • If a student has a history of breaking other school rules, that too could result in expulsion. In these cases, expulsion is used as a last resort if the student's behaviour has not improved. Some offenses which may lead to expulsion when repeated persistently include:

  • Defiance and rebellion against authority
  • Vandalism
  • Bullying
  • Plagiarism
  • Stealing
  • False alarm (setting off the fire alarm when there is no fire or making hoax 911 calls)
  • Gambling
  • Terroristic threat
  • Discrimination
  • Since many violent students often rebel against school rules, some head teachers may choose to expel a student who has performed an act of violence against another pupil for persistent defiance rather than violence. This is in order to protect the victim from being assaulted again as revenge for the excluded student's expulsion. Some regard this "totting up" process of persistent defiance to be unfair, as the pupil will have often been punished once already for each act, and expulsion can be seen as a second punishment imposed after the matter had been settled.


    The pupil and his or her parents can appeal to the school governors against the expulsion. If the appeal fails to reinstate the pupil, a further appeal can be made to an appeals board (which sits on the behalf of the local education authority).

    Appeals to the governors

    The parents of an excluded pupil are entitled to appeal against expulsion or an exclusion exceeding five days to a panel of school governors acting as a court.

    The panel, which consists of parents and staff and cannot include the headteacher, is not legally able to exclude a pupil or extend a term of exclusion; but it can convert a permanent exclusion to a fixed-term one, reduce the length of a fixed-term exclusion, or cancel an exclusion.

    The appeal must occur no sooner than six days after and no more than 15 days after the exclusion begins. The panel considers oral, written, or physical evidence from the school detailing the case for expulsion, and from the parents of the excluded pupil. The pupil and his or her parents may argue that the excluded pupil was not responsible for the act for which he or she has been excluded, or that the punishment was disproportionate to the offense.

    Appeal to the local education authority

    If the appeal to the governors is unsuccessful, an expelled or excluded student and his or her parents may go to an appeals board. This panel, which is appointed by the local education authority, must be autonomous of the authority, the school, and the parents of the excluded student.

    The majority of the appeals that these panels hear are not against exclusions, but are for the admission of pupils into schools. Although the local education authority are in theory obligated to provide education to a pupil under school-leaving age (Year 11 and below), in practice (usually when the pupil is denied access to other schools and/or the pupil referral unit) the local education authority employs techniques such as appointing a single tutor for one lesson a week.

    There are a number of projects that provide free legal representation to pupils who are appealing against their permanent exclusion from school. The institution cited in letters detailing the reasons for permanent exclusions is the Coram Children's Legal Centre.

    There are voluntary groups who provide trainee lawyers to represent parents at both governing body appeals and independent appeal panels. The City / Matrix Chambers School Exclusions Project is one such project.

    Independent sector

    In the independent sector, a pupil can be ‘permanently excluded’ at the discretion of the headteacher.

    Distinction between expulsion and rustication

    Whereas expulsion from a UK independent school means permanent removal from the school, "rustication" usually means removal from the school for the remainder of the current term.

    United States and Canada

    In the United States and Canada, expulsion criteria and process vary from state to state or province. Depending on local school board jurisdiction, approval from that school's local school board may be required before a student can be expelled, as opposed to a suspension, which may only require approval from the principal. Students who have been expelled are no longer eligible to visit the school and attend or perform any activity with any students or staff who are with the school. Students who breach an expulsion (visit the school after being expelled) will be arrested for, and charged with, trespassing. Students are usually not expelled for academic violations such as plagiarism that would be punishable in college.

    While at one time it was difficult for a student to be expelled from public school, that is no longer the case. A 2001 report from Justice Policy Institute showed that expulsions nearly doubled from 1974 to 1998; despite student victimization rates remaining stable. Beginning with the Gun-Free School Zones Act, and following the Columbine shooting tragedy, schools have become increasingly willing to suspend or have expelled students for minor behavior offenses. For example, in Maryland during the 2006-2007 school year, while 2% of suspensions were for weapons, 37% were for disrespect, insubordination, or disruption. The Task Force on the Education of Maryland’s American Males noted that "high suspension and expulsion rates do little more than increase court referrals for minor misbehavior", and those actions put "a child on the path toward delinquency or accelerates his journey there". These policies are more generally known as zero tolerance, and have resulted in the school-to-prison pipeline.

    Students who have been expelled from a building in primary and secondary schools typically are forced to attend class at an alternate location. Alternative schools are usually owned by the expelling school district for expelled students to attend daily lessons. Students have other options, such as boarding schools, private schools, and online courses, such as APEX or K-12. In some states, such as Wisconsin, other public school districts are not required to enroll students who are currently serving a term of expulsion. In some cases, such as permanent expulsion from a district, this type of statutory authority can have the effect of displacing an expelled student from the public education system of an entire state, effectively ending their educational career.

    New Zealand

    In New Zealand, Expulsion and exclusion are both terms for removing a student from a school for misconduct. The difference is students under 16 years of age are excluded and those 16 or over are expelled, but both are commonly referred to as expulsion. For students excluded, because they are under the minimum school leaving age, the excluding school is required to find an alternative school for the student to attend, or reinstate the student if another school cannot be found. For students that are expelled, the expelling school is not required to find an alternative school, as the student is over the minimum school leaving age.

    Exclusion/expulsion cannot be directly done by the principal. It must be done through suspending the student, and requiring the school's board of trustees, or a standing disciplinary committee of the board, to independently assess whether or not the situation is serious enough to justify exclusion or expulsion of the student.

    In 2009, exclusions and expulsions rates were 2.41 and 2.01 per thousand students respectively. Students were more likely to be excluded or expelled if they were male, of Maori or Pacific Island descent, and/or attended a school with a low (1-4) socioeconomic decile.

    The most common reasons for exclusions and expulsions in 2009 were:

  • Continual disobedience – 41.2% of exclusions / 25.3% of expulsions
  • Drugs (incl. substance abuse) – 14.2% / 25.8%
  • Physical assault on other students – 17.3% / 16.8%
  • Theft – 4.4% / 8.9%
  • Verbal assault on staff – 5.0% / 2.6%
  • Physical assault on staff – 4.5% / 1.6%
  • Weapons – 2.5% / 2.6%
  • Vandalism – 1.3% / 2.6%
  • Alcohol – 1.0% / 3.7%
  • Verbal assault on other students – 1.1% / 0.5%
  • Arson, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and smoking were the other main reasons for exclusion and expulsion recorded.


    In mainland China, expulsions of compulsory education schools are completely banned under the Article 27 of the Compulsory Education Act.


    Expulsion (education) Wikipedia