Suspensions, proactive identification and a holistic approach


  • Suspensions are rising across England. The recent EPI report, ‘Outcomes for young people who experience multiple suspensions’ investigates the relationship between suspensions and educational outcomes for young people
  • Key to addressing this issue is a system of proactive early intervention to address rising suspensions so that young people can access support in a timely and effective manner
  • Rising suspensions however is not an isolated issue and is just one of the wider crises occurring such as the rise in absenteeism. We therefore need to act holistically and address the root causes of these issues in order for young people to be able to thrive



Across England, Suspension and Permanent Exclusion rates have been rising and since the Covid-19 Pandemic, they have rapidly increased with 2022 seeing the highest rates of suspensions ever recorded.[1] This is just one outcome of the multiple challenges children and young people are facing along with rising rates of mental illness and persistent absenteeism. In this blog, we examine the wider context, along with the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) recent report ‘Outcomes for young people who experience multiple suspensions’, and the alignment between its recommendations and our experience from delivery. 


The Wider Context


The wider picture however is one of a multitude of crises.  Alongside increased suspension rates, children and young people’s mental health is worsening and persistent absenteeism has risen since the Pandemic. [2,3] These crises are symptoms of wider challenges such as the rise in Child Poverty, the impact of Covid-19 and the ongoing Cost of Living Crisis. Schools, Local Authorities and Support Services are under increased pressure, resulting in increasing waiting times and higher thresholds to access support, all compounding the issues young people face. Poverty is at the root of many of these challenges and crises and can activate a chain in motion which ultimately leads to negative outcomes for young people. For example, the CSJ report ‘Suspending Reality’ finds that students on Free School Meals are three times more likely to be severely absent than their peers. [4] The EPI report shows how persistently absent students are more at risk of facing suspension and consequently negative educational outcomes, as even just one suspension leads to individuals on average not achieving a pass grade at GCSE Maths and English. [5] Therefore there are often wider systemic drivers that materialise at school as low attendance, behavioural challenges and low attainment, each impacting the other. Suspension therefore is not a cause, but a symptom.  It is part of a wider picture of compounding factors, therefore addressing it in isolation is unlikely to be fully effective and through earlier identification and action, the chain of events leading to suspensions can be broken, preventing them from occurring. 

Report Recommendations and the WLZ Model - The importance of proactive identification and early intervention


The EPI report calls for proactive identification of those pupils at risk of suspension and highlights the importance of early intervention. [6] Due to the current climate however, there has been a reduction in early intervention methods, replaced by more costly, crisis-management approaches and evidence shows that early intervention services have reduced with a 45% drop in the last 12 years. [7] Early intervention however makes a vital difference. Over half of pupils who experience one suspension go on to experience another. [8] Intervening earlier prevents pupils from experiencing multiple suspensions that have detrimental effects on their education. 


Our model uses proactive identification - incorporating evidence based predictive data and school judgement -  to identify our cohort. This needs to be a considered and targeted process, especially in times of resource constraints, to ensure we reach the pupils who are most in need of our support. When pupils start on our programme they present with multiple risk factors, including low school attendance, difficulties in the classroom, and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs. We know these pupils are at risk of facing exclusions. [9] Pupils with SEN support are eight times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than their peers, and SEMH needs in particular carry a far greater risk of exclusion. [10] Therefore, proactive identification is crucial and effective in ensuring that support is directed to the right pupils. 


Young people do not face challenges in isolation and there is a strong interconnectedness between symptoms, such as suspensions, and causes, such as unmet learning needs. This points to a need for a holistic approach to any intervention, allowing for greater join-up across services and viewing any issues in conjunction with a Young Person's wider context. Our model offers wrap-around support for the young people and their families that we work with. By joining up support with our Delivery Partners and community services, we can link families to access other forms of support such as Family Hub services when appropriate. Viewing the issues children present with holistically enables us to develop a programme that is sustainable as the core drivers are being addressed, breaking that chain that leads to negative outcomes. 


Looking Forward


Addressing suspensions and exclusions is complex, and there is a constant need to keep learning. We have been doing this internally through our Exclusions Learning Project (our Programme Design team meeting with our Link Workers regularly through the programme for insight and reflection) and externally by engaging with organisations such as Mission 44 (who convene organisations to share experiences around this topic). Our own reflection has re-emphasised the importance of the role of a trusted relationship in reducing exclusions. This is echoed in the CSJ report that states, ‘Education practitioners stressed that a strong relationship with at least one trusted adult was the most crucial part of any strategy for preventing exclusion and ensuring pupils remain engaged in their education.’ [11] Our Link Workers are in school full-time, providing one-to-one support for each child throughout their tailored two-year programme. Getting to know each young person is the important first step, and by being based with but independent from the school, we can offer a different form of support and relationship for each pupil.


What is clear is that suspensions have a detrimental effect on the educational outcomes of pupils. We therefore need to act early in a holistic way to ensure that every child and young person has the resources and support they need to flourish.


[1] FOOTNOTE 1  Department for Education, Statistics: Permanent and fixed-period exclusions in England: Academic year 2021/22 (2023)

[2] FOOTNOTE 2  NHS England: ‘Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2023’ (2023) 

[3] FOOTNOTE 3  House of Commons, Education Committee: ‘Persistant absence and support for disadvantaged pupils’ (2023)

[4] FOOTNOTE 4  CSJ: ‘Suspending Reality: Part 1: The crisis of school exclusions  and what to do about it’ (2024)

[5] FOOTNOTE 5  EPI: ‘Outcomes for young people who experience multiple suspensions’ (2024)

[6] FOOTNOTE 6  Ibid.

[7] FOOTNOTE 7  Pro Bono Economics: ‘The well-worn path: Children’s services spending 2010-11 to 2021-22’ (2023)

[8] FOOTNOTE 8  Ibid.

[9] FOOTNOTE 9  Social Finance: ‘Maximising access to education: Who’s at risk of exclusion? An analysis in Cheshire West and Chichester’ (2020)

[10] FOOTNOTE 10 Ibid. 

[11] FOOTNOTE 11  CSJ: ‘Suspending Reality’ (2024)

together, every child and young person can flourish.