Expulsions data: are British schoolchildren becoming more violent?

The Guardian has been digging deeper into the statistics released by the DfE about how many children are excluded after initial media reports claiming that bad behaviour is on the rise.  They find a rather more complex situation that these headlines suggested, including the facts that since 1997 total permanent exclusions have actually halved and that nearly three quarters of suspensions and exclusions involve children with special educational needs…

So how was the Telegraph able to report that the number of expulsions had “soared by almost 14%”?

To argue that the number has ‘soared’ 14% you have to:
a) Ignore the fact that the total number of permanent exclusions has fallen to less than half what it was in 1998 – from 12,300 to 5,170
b) Focus solely on change in the past year

That shows that it has increased. But only by 2%. That’s not catchy enough so you:
a) Ignore all other types of schools
b) Focus solely on state-funded primary schools

Then you get a meatier figure of 13.1%, which you can say is “almost 14%”.

Here’s the biggest clanger though. Anyone who gets as far as table 9 in the Department for Education’s spreadsheet will spot what is perhaps the most important fact in the whole release.

Children with special educational needs make up 73% of all suspensions and exclusions, even though those children make up less than 0.5% of all school pupils in the country. There’s your headline.

The Telegraph, like other press outlets, has chosen to focus on more attacks on teachers. But that also needs to be treated with a note of caution.

While national numbers on permanent exclusions and fixed-period exclusions (more commonly known as suspensions) are summed up in a year-by-year chart, we only have information about why students were excluded for 2012.

That means we can’t claim with certainty that there are more or fewer attacks on teachers. If we wanted to have a go at it, though, we could assume that each year these make up a similar proportion of all reasons for suspension/expulsion – and, if that percentage is the same but the totals are falling, then the number of attacks on teachers is also likely to be declining each year.

What it is fair to say is that in primary schools, more pupils are expelled for a physical assault on an adult than on another child (200 compared with 120 pupils).

But, that trend is reversed when you look at suspensions. Some 9,120 pupils from state primary schools were suspended for physically assaulting another pupil, but 8,630 were suspended for physically assaulting an adult. That might mean that for more serious incidents, teachers see an attack on a teacher as more cause for a disciplinary procedure than an attack on a pupil.

To focus on the 690 students expelled from state primary schools is also strange given that the statistics on the total 5,170 pupils in England who were permanently or temporarily excluded is so very rich.

While the gap between boys and girls in schools is growing and there are some worrying trends in boy’s self-esteem, the data shows that three times as many boys as girls are suspended or excluded from schools.

Wealth makes very little impact on whether or not a student is expelled or suspended: the number is quite consistent from the 10% of pupils who are the most deprived to the 10% who are the least deprived.

The data also tells us that almost half of all students that were suspended were not allowed to attend school for just one day. It tells us that 0.07% of all students were excluded in 2012 – down from 0.12% in 2007 and 0.16% in 1998. And it tells us that for every pupil expelled from a state-funded primary school, six pupils were expelled from a state-funded secondary school.

With so much to say, why focus solely on attacks on teachers in primary schools?

There’s plenty more in this complex dataset. We’ve uploaded the lot here so you can explore it for yourself.

More (including graphs and charts) at:  Expulsions data: are British schoolchildren becoming more violent?

Does this Guardian analysis tally more with your own experiences than the initial media reports yesterday? The data of SEN children is surely, as the Guardian suggests, the real story here? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Research.


  1. kayakingkiwi

    SchoolsImprove Numbers are hidden by non-exclusion agreements: disruptive students are passed about. Doesn’t help them or the schools

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