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Interventions to prevent school exclusion

Interventions which aim to prevent children becoming excluded or suspended from school.

Estimated impact on violent crime:

LOW

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Setting

  • School and college

Themes

  • A safe, positive place to learn

Other Outcomes

Evidence quality

  • LOW reduction in Suspensions
    1 2 3 4 5
  • HIGH Reduction in Exclusions
    1 2 3 4 5

What is it?

This summary describes the impact of interventions which aim to prevent children being excluded or suspended from school. It does not focus on the overall relationship between exclusion and violence, nor on school policies regarding exclusion, such as ‘zero tolerance’ or ‘no exclusions’ policies.

Preventing children from being excluded from school might protect them in several ways. There is an extensive evidence base that children who are excluded from school face further adverse life experiences. Supporting children to stay in school might lead to higher educational attainment and more opportunities in the future, and ensure children remain in a safe environment. School exclusion is also relevant to wider concerns about disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Black Caribbean pupils are twice as likely to be subject to fixed-term exclusion and four times more likely to be permanently excluded. Pupils with special educational needs and children from Gypsy, Roma, and Irish Traveller communities are also more likely to be excluded.

Research has aimed to understand whether a range of different interventions might keep children safe by supporting them to stay in school. Some interventions work directly with individual children. This could include:

  • Counselling or specialist therapy from community mental health services.
  • Activities to develop social-emotional skills such as self-regulation, relationship and communication skills, and decision-making.
  • Therapeutic techniques to help students regulate their behaviour and develop appropriate coping strategies.
  • Mentoring which pairs students with a mentor who can provide pastoral or academic support.
  • Academic tutoring.

Another set of approaches work across the whole school. These approaches aim to create positive school environments, with clear rules that promote good behaviour, learning, and safety. Typically, this involves a range of components and activities such as one-to-one instruction, modelling, role-play exercises, feedback and reinforcement. They might also have a specific focus on restorative practices, such as responsive circles and restorative conferences, which are expected to reduce conflict between students. For example, the ‘SaferSanerSchools’ programme focused on communication skills, encouraging students to take responsibility for their actions and using restorative principles after disruption or conflict has occurred.

Is it effective?

The best available estimate suggests the impact is likely to be low. However, the evidence base is complex and different reviews have provided different conclusions.

One review reported the impact of programmes on both arrests and suspension. It did not include studies which only reported an outcome for permanent exclusion. This review found that, on average, interventions which aim to reduce school suspension reduce both arrests and suspensions by a very small amount. The programmes in this review failed to have much of an impact on suspensions. If programmes had more success at reducing suspensions, they may have a greater impact on reducing crime.

Another review focused on a broader range of outcomes including in-school exclusion, out-of-school exclusion, and expulsion (permanent exclusion). This review did not look at the impact on any crime or violence outcomes but found interventions that were much more successful at reducing exclusion. It estimated that, on average, interventions had a high impact on the number of exclusions.

The evidence base is complex and different reviews have provided different conclusions.

How secure is the evidence?

We have  moderate  confidence in our estimate of the impact on crime and violence

 The estimate is based on a high-quality systematic review. However, we have downgraded our evidence security rating from high to moderate because the estimate of impact on arrests is based on only six studies.

Most of the available research is from the USA. The reviews identified only four studies which were conducted in the UK.

The largest available study in the UK is an evaluation of the Engage in Education programme, delivered by Catch22. In this programme, youth workers worked with children in years 9 and 10 on topics such as effective communication, anger management, and de-escalation. One-to-one support was provided by a keyworker in areas of identified need. This study found no evidence that the Engage in Education intervention reduced exclusions.  

How can you implement it well?

Research has examined whether different types of intervention might lead to different impacts on the number of exclusions. It suggests that the following activities were associated with greater impacts.

  • Activities which aim to prevent violence at school by supporting students to develop self-regulation and peaceful responses to conflict.
  • Support for students’ mental health. This includes both in-school counselling and more specialised provision from community mental health services.
  • Interventions which pair students with a mentor, which could be a teacher or someone from the local community. The mentor might act as a role model, supervise academic performance, provide advice or counselling, and help with academic tasks.
  • Academic support, such as tutoring.

There is some evidence to suggest that targeted support for individual students was associated with larger reductions in exclusions than approaches that work across the whole school. This does not mean that whole-school approaches are unimportant as they could reduce the need for targeted support.

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of interventions to prevent school exclusions is likely to moderate. Universal programmes are likely to be cheaper, whilst programmes offering more targeted support for pupils vulnerable to exclusion, are likely to be higher.

Our cost estimate is based on three evaluations of relevant interventions. Costs could include project workers, extra teachers, counsellors, mentors and additional support staff. Costs may vary depending on the numbers of those involved in delivering the intervention, and the intensity of support provided. A recent evaluation of the Engage in Education programme in the UK, (described above) estimated the programme cost £882 per pupil.

Topic summary

  • The research on interventions to prevent school exclusion is complex. There is promising evidence about effective approaches to preventing exclusions. However, when the research has looked at the impact on arrests, it has tended to focus on interventions that have been less successful at keeping children in school.
  • Future research should identify the interventions with the biggest impacts on exclusions and evaluate their impact on crime and violence.
  • The programmes with the biggest impacts on preventing exclusions have tended to involve activities which develop self-regulation and conflict resolution, provide support for student’s mental health, pair students with a mentor, and provide academic support.

Timpson review on school exclusions
Edward Timpson’s 2019 review on school exclusions commissioned by the Department of education. The review aimed to find out how headteachers use their power to exclude and why certain pupils such as those with SEN, those receiving FSM, children supported by social care and certain ethnic minority groups, are more likely to be excluded.

Improving Behaviour in Schools (EEF)

An evidence-based guidance report for schools with practical tips on supporting positive behaviour.

Downloads

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