Developing a multi-disciplinary understanding of the political economies and consequences of school exclusion across the UK


The Political Economies of School Exclusion and their Consequences: Research Summary

School exclusion has long and short-term consequences in terms of academic achievement, well-being, mental health, and future prospects.
Yet there are great differences in the rates of permanent school exclusion in different parts of the UK with numbers rising rapidly in England but remaining relatively low or falling in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For example, in the latest available figures there were 7,894 permanent exclusions in England (2018-19) compared to just three in Scotland (2018-19). However, these figures do not account for many informal and illegal forms of exclusion. In this research, home international comparisons of historical and current policy, practice and legal frameworks relating to school exclusion will be conducted for the first time.

Previous research and official government statistics show that exclusions are far more likely to affect pupils from specific groups e.g. low-income families, from some ethnic backgrounds, or with special needs. This project therefore aims to highlight ways in which fairer and more productive outcomes can be achieved for pupils, their families, and professionals by comparing the ways in which policy and practice around exclusions differ in the four jurisdictions.

The research is being undertaken by the multi-disciplinary (criminology, economics, education, law, psychiatry, sociology, and disability studies) and multi-site (the universities of Oxford, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Queen’s Belfast, and the LSE) Excluded Lives Research Team established in 2014. In education, policy discourse has tended to find individual reasons for exclusion rather than develop an understanding of exclusion in the wider context of education, social policy and the law. In contrast, this research assumes that school exclusion cannot be treated as separate from the general welfare and education systems. Education policy has also largely ignored the work conducted by school and welfare professionals that attempts to address disruptive behaviour to prevent more serious incidents. There is a tension between the pressure on schools to perform academically and the need to make adequate provision for children and young people from disadvantaged social groups. As a consequence, pupils who do not conform to the rules can be excluded to the social margins of schooling.

The team will engage directly with the Third Sector, professionals at school, local authority and jurisdiction government level, as well as with disadvantaged and excluded pupils and their families.

What we do

Our research

The research is organised into three work strands: 

Strand A:

Landscapes of exclusion

Strand A work packages examine the ways in which policies and legal frameworks shape interventions designed to prevent exclusions; the financial costs associated with exclusion; and patterns and characteristics of exclusion

A1. School exclusion policy levers, drivers and legal frameworks across the UK jurisdictions

A2a. Explorations of school exclusions and their social origins

A2b. The social costs of exclusion: Medium- and long-term socio-economic and behavioural consequences of school exclusion

A3. The landscape of public, private and third sector provision

Strand B:

Experiences of exclusion

Strand B work packages will focus on families’, pupils’ and professionals’ experiences of the risks and consequences of exclusion.

B1: Professionals’ conceptualisations of risk and vulnerabilities

B2: The perspectives of school leaders and teachers on the exclusion process 

B3: Students’ and families’ experiences of formal, informal and illegal exclusion in the political economies of the four UK jurisdictions

Strand C:

Costs & Findings

Strand C will evaluate the costs of school exclusions at individual, institutional and system levels; carry out within and cross-jurisdiction analyses; and conduct full multi-disciplinary integration of these findings.

C1: Economic costs of exclusion

C2: Cross-jurisdiction analysis

C3: Full multi-disciplinary integration


Featured publications

Seeking a balance: Conversations with policy makers and influencers about intervening upstream to prevent school exclusions in the context of Covid-19 and beyond

As schools get underway with the COVID-19 recovery phase in England, there is growing consensus among practitioners and policy professionals that rebuilding based on pre-COVID specifications will lead to the re-establishment of a previously broken system; a system which saw the most vulnerable children and young people in society slipping through the cracks. Read more

Restoring the balance: Policy recommendation justifications for collective responsibility in the post Covid-19 era

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed stark inequalities in our society, not least in school education. Read more

Getting the balance right: Policy recommendations for intervening upstream to prevent school exclusion in the context of Covid-19

Recommendations for policy makers that will support the successful reintegration of children and young people as they return to education in schools, sixth form colleges, further education colleges, special schools and pupil referral units and mitigate the risks of exclusion. Read more