Brain Sciences


Pupils isolated from family, school and community at highest risk of exclusion

6 February 2019

New research by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL’s Evidence Based Practice Unit shows that children who report weaker ties with their family, community and school are most likely to be excluded from school and experience mental health problems.


These are the latest findings from a survey of over 30,000 young people (aged 11 to 14) collected as part the National Lottery-funded HeadStart programme.

As part of the study, pupils answered questions about their mental health and wellbeing, emotional strengths and skills, and support networks, and their responses were combined with information about their school exclusions held in the National Pupil Database.

The study’s findings highlight the link between mental health difficulties, lower academic attainment and persistent absence from school. It also finds that pupils excluded from school consistently have higher levels of behavioural problems, difficulties with peers and attention difficulties than their peers.

Additionally, it finds young people excluded from school demonstrated a lower ability in managing emotions, problem solving, goal setting, empathy and helping others.

Research lead Dr Jessica Deighton (EBPU) said: “In the past, the focus of educational reforms has mainly been on academic outcomes, and that social and emotional learning has taken a back seat.

“Our findings suggest that if we are serious about finding the best way to prevent children from being excluded from school, we need to look in more depth about how we support these children through their difficulties by working with their families and schools.

“The findings highlight that this group are likely to feel less supported at home, at school and in the community than their peers. Increasing support for this group in these contexts might help them not only to manage their mental health needs but also their ability to access education.

The research findings support new policy and practice initiatives which are being developed to provide better links between schools and mental health services.

“Our results highlight the importance of prevention, early intervention and school-based support for mental health difficulties and building stronger links between schools and mental health services. We are pleased to see that action is being taken in these areas,” said Dr Deighton.