Included, engaged and involved part 2: preventing and managing school exclusions

Part two of guidance document 'Included, Engaged and Involved', which refreshes the national policy on school exclusions.

Section 6 - Prevention, Early Intervention and Staged Intervention

This section focuses on approaches that work towards preventing the need for exclusion. The focus is on creating a positive whole school ethos that promotes positive relationships and behaviour, based on robust assessment and planning processes, which extend from universal and targeted school based support to specialist, extended provision of education and support.


Whole school culture and ethos

A school's culture, ethos and values are fundamental to promoting positive relationships and behaviour. An inclusive ethos where everyone's contribution is valued and encouraged should be promoted. A positive ethos has been identified in school improvement studies as being fundamental to raising attainment. Schools with a positive ethos promote pupil and staff participation, encourage achievement, celebrate success and have high expectations of every child and young person. They have lower exclusion rates and experience less disruptive behaviour. Research by the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, 'How Young People's Participation in school supports achievement and attainment' [22] highlighted that positive pupil/teacher relationships, active engagement of learners and feelings of belonging were key factors identified by pupils in high-achieving schools. Effective whole school approaches can only be developed by involving everyone in the learning community - children and young people, staff, parent(s) and the wider community.

Learning in Health and Wellbeing, as part of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), ensures that children and young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, capabilities and attributes which they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing.

All adults who work in schools have a responsibility to support the mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing of the children and young people in their care. The Responsibility of All includes each practitioner's role in establishing open, positive, supportive relationships across the school community. CfE is designed to improve education for children and young people by putting their learning experiences at the heart of education.

Leadership is recognised as one of the most important aspects of the success of any school. Leaders at all levels who are empowered, and who empower others to take ownership of their own learning, have a strong track record of ensuring the highest quality of learning and teaching. This in turn helps to ensure that all children achieve the best possible outcomes.

Highly effective leadership is key to ensuring the highest possible standards and expectations are shared across schools to achieve excellence and equity for all. We want to empower the leaders at all levels in our schools. We believe good leaders are best placed to improve outcomes for our children and can drive further improvement by collaborating across boundaries.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS) Standards for Leadership and Management [23] states that one of the key purposes of a Head Teacher is to lead the whole school community:

'in order to establish, sustain and enhance a positive ethos and culture of learning through which every learner is able to learn effectively and achieve their potential'.

Head Teachers should also build and sustain partnerships with learners families and relevant partners to meet the identified needs of all learners they have responsibility for.

The professional values and personal commitments core to being a teacher are: social justice, integrity, trust & respect and professional commitment:

'respecting the rights of all learners as outlined in the UNCRC & their entitlement to be included in decisions regarding their learning experiences and have all aspects of their wellbeing developed and supported'.

They should also ensure a safe and secure 'environment for all learners within a caring and compassionate ethos and with an understanding of wellbeing'. There is evidence that the integration of social and emotional programmes into the broader school curriculum can have a positive effect on academic achievement and wellbeing (Emerson et al 2012; Patrikakou 2008). Social and emotional types of learning can improve pupils' understanding of academic subject matter, reduce anxiety, and increase their motivation to learn (Patrikakou 2008). Focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing of children early in their development, rather than waiting until some pupils begin to exhibit problems, may help to prevent any potential achievement gap (Scott et al 2010). Using parental engagement in education as a tool to enhance pupil wellbeing rather than solely to promote academic achievement, can also reduce the risk of parents placing excessive pressure on students to excel (Emerson et al 2012).

Parental engagement is also seen as an important factor in improving a child or young person's progress in school. Research into the effects of family engagement in education has been shown to have a significant positive effect on a range of outcomes including attainment, achievement, health and wellbeing. When parents become engaged in their children's learning as well as forming positive ways of managing children's behaviour, children's achievement improves (Beckett et al 2012 and Kiernan and Mensah 2011, both cited in Grayson 2013).

Parental engagement in their children's learning in the home has a greater effect on their achievement than parental involvement in school-based activities (Goodall 2013; Altschul 2011). However, maximising children's learning is best facilitated by parents engaging in learning activities in the home in tandem with similar critical instructions being received at school (Crosnoe 2012). The likelihood of educational attainment increases when the child perceives continuity of values between school and family (Blanch et al 2013).

Parental engagement with their children is particularly important at times of transition (Goodall 2013; Harris and Goodall 2009). Evidence has shown that concerted efforts for parental engagement during periods of transition, especially the transition from primary to secondary school, prevent any gains in achievement prior to a transition from being lost (Harris and Goodall 2009). With effective partnership working between families and schools, the likelihood of truancy, exclusion, or disengagement is lessened (Harris and Goodall 2009).

Key Approaches to developing positive relationships and behaviour

There are a range of approaches (definitions provided in Annex B) which schools use to improve relationships and behaviour. These are centred around the principle that all behaviour is a form of communication. The effective implementation of these approaches can often prevent the need for exclusion. These include:

  • restorative and solution oriented approaches as part of a whole school approach;
  • whole school nurturing approaches based on nurturing principles, including nurture groups in early years, primary, and secondary and specialist provision;
  • anti-bullying policies and practice which contribute to social and emotional wellbeing including the Mentors in Violence Prevention ( MVP) Programme [24] and respectme [25] , Scotland's anti-bullying service; and
  • effective learning and teaching which contributes to developing good relationships and positive behaviour in the classroom, playground and wider school community.

The above approaches can also be used in a timely fashion to target early intervention of children and young people who may be at risk of exclusion. For example, solution oriented or restorative meetings which involve key staff are often utilised in schools to help identify the main issues as well as sharing effective strategies and identifying the way forward. Nurture groups can also be used to support pupils as a targeted intervention to prevent exclusion.

Early Intervention and Staged Intervention

Early intervention and prevention are key elements of a framework focused on ensuring we get it right for all our children and young people. Early intervention is crucial in reducing the need for exclusion whilst recognising that all support should be appropriate, proportionate and timely. Staged intervention models should include a range of approaches from universal through to more targeted and specialist support that are adapted across local authorities in accordance with local context and needs.

A key aspect of this framework is the emphasis on robust planning and assessment which places the wellbeing of children and young people at the centre. The wellbeing of children and young people is at the heart of GIRFEC and focuses attention on how safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, responsible, respected and included a child is and feels.

National practice model

It is particularly important that professionals engaging with children and young people seek to develop a shared understanding of the child's overall wellbeing and agree what approaches are to be used and how to assess their impact.

All practitioners should use the National Practice Model as a framework for assessing, planning and reviewing the support of a child or young person. This model also emphasises the key part that relationships play in building up resilience, providing a protective environment, supporting vulnerability and managing adversity. Local Authorities should work with partner agencies and unions to offer professional learning opportunities to develop staff's understanding of assessment, planing and review processes.

Joined-up partnership working is a fundamental aspect of the whole system approach; where children and young people, parents, and the services they need all work together in a co-ordinated way to meet specific needs and improve the child or young person's wellbeing. GIRFEC focuses on improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of children and young people by offering the right help at the right time from the right people. It supports them and their parent(s) to work in partnership with the services that can help them. Having effective assessment and co-ordinated planning (a single plan) where a child or young person has wellbeing needs, such as the prospect, or current reality of, being excluded, facilitates effective collaborative working to make good use of resources and avoid unnecessary duplication for the child or young person, their parent(s) and practitioners.

Partnership working is a key factor in successfully preventing and managing school exclusions.

De-escalation and Physical Intervention

All education authorities have a duty of care to all children and young people attending school in respect of the health, safety, wellbeing and welfare of the children and young people in their care.

There are times when children and young people will exhibit challenging and distressed behaviour. Staff's knowledge and detailed assessment of a child or young person should be used to predict and plan for the type of situation which may cause that child or young person severe stress or frustration that can lead to challenging and distressed behaviour. Staff should recognise that all behaviour is communication and endeavour to identify, where possible, the triggers that may lead to a child or young person acting in a challenging and distressed way.

This information should be included in a plan to support the individual child or young person. The plan should state how the child or young person should be supported and clearly outline agreed strategies that should be used by staff. Specific consideration should be given to a child or young person's additional support needs and the impact that these may have on their communication and behaviours. This should include consideration of complex additional support needs, such as language and communication needs and autism.

Risk and health and safety assessments should also be carried out to determine any potential concerns arising from the child or young person's behaviour, and should identify any steps deemed necessary to support the child or young person in preventing harm to themselves or others. The risk and health and safety assessments should be informed by the information gathered using the National Practice Model [26] and should be shared with the child or young person, their parents, and all staff who are involved with the child or young person.

An important aspect of these assessments is the understanding that risk must always be an important consideration and should inform a school's decision whether or not to exclude a child or young person. Risk and health and safety assessment processes should also be applied to situations where unpredictable, challenging and distressed behaviour can arise.

Education authorities, in consultation with staff and key delivery partners including staff unions should develop their own policy on de-escalation and physical intervention within the wider context of positive relationship and behaviour approaches based on their own individual needs and context.

Education authorities should develop this as part of a framework of promoting a positive ethos, and positive relationships and behaviour. This should clearly articulate the expectations of staff with regard to physical intervention, for example it is only acceptable to physically intervene where the member of staff reasonably believes that if they do not physically intervene, the child or young person's actions are likely to cause physical damage or harm to that pupil or to another person. [27]

A key aspect of a school approach to intervening early and reducing the need for exclusion is staff having an understanding and awareness of de-escalation techniques. All relevant staff should be offered professional learning opportunities to learn about de-escalation techniques and to understand the different types of challenging behaviour.

Staff should also be provided with opportunities to reflect on the potential emotional impact on children, young people and staff during any incidents of challenging and distressed behaviour and engage in discussions about how this can be supported in a school context.


Seclusion of a child or young person within a separate space is also a form of physical intervention and should also only be used as a last resort to ensure the safety of a child or young person, or others.

Any separation of a child or young person must be in a place that is safe and that does not cause any additional distress to the child or young person.

The use of this form of physical intervention should be included in an agreed plan for the individual. Where seclusion is used:

  • it must be in a place that is safe;
  • it should be managed under supervision;
  • it should take into account the additional support needs of the child or young person; and
  • it should be time limited.

Education authorities should ensure that appropriate support and training is provided for staff and this should include guidance on support following an incident for all those involved.

An education authority policy should also specify the appropriate levels of intervention when responding to challenging and distressed behaviour, recognising that the majority of children and young people in our schools will never require any form of physical intervention.

Any incident where a decision is made to physically intervene must be recorded and monitored. Details on how this should be undertaken should be included in an education authority's policy on de-escalation, physical intervention. The recording and monitoring of such incidents will help education authorities to monitor the effectiveness of their policy and practice. It will ensure transparency, enable them to review and improve their policy and help identify professional learning needs and further supports where appropriate.

The rights of all children and young people must be a key consideration where physical intervention is being considered. This reflects the recognition and realisation of children and young people's rights across Scottish public policy, public services and society as a whole. It is important to consider the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) in this context. Article 37 states that 'No one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way.' Article 3 states that 'the best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children'.

Managing incidents involving weapons

Where school staff suspect that a child or young person is in possession of a weapon, such as a knife, in school, this should, where possible, be referred to the headteacher, or in their absence the member of staff deputising immediately. Staff should not directly challenge the child or young person.

Schools should ensure that training and support on de-escalation is provided for all school staff. This should include how to respond to situations where a child or young person may be suspected of having a weapon. When considering the most appropriate way to deal with a situation where school staff suspect a child or young persons is in possession of a weapon, consideration must be given to the safety of the child or young person and all others within the school. It may be evident from the circumstances that there is a need to call the police to attend. Prior training in risk assessment for such situations should be undertaken within all schools.

A member of school staff, in the presence of another member of senior staff, where possible, may - if they believe it is safe to do so - ask the child or young person to disclose and display the contents of pockets or bags, to ascertain if there is a weapon. If the child or young person will not co-operate by displaying their belongings, then the child or young person should be asked to remain where they are and the police should be called immediately.

Education authorities, in consultation with key partners including staff unions should develop their own policy on weapons within the wider context of positive relationships and behaviour approaches. Education authorities and schools have a responsibility to ensure that all staff are aware of the local policy and procedures to follow if they suspect that a child or young person is in possession of a weapon.

Any incident where a decision is made to undertake a search of a child or young person and/or where a weapon is suspected or found, must be recorded. Education authorities and schools should develop their own recording and monitoring processes for weapons within their existing systems to ensure that they have accurate evidence, which is monitored and reviewed to help identify emerging issues and support early action.

Details on how this should be undertaken should be included in an education authority's policy on preventing exclusions and supporting positive relationships. Regular monitoring of such incidents will help education authorities to monitor the effectiveness of their policy and practice. It will also enable them to review and improve their policy, and will help identify any professional learning needs.

Schools should consider, as part of their health and wellbeing curriculum, how children and young people can be supported to develop safe and responsible attitudes, including understanding the risks and dangers that can arise from carrying a weapon and by being encouraged to speak with an adult if they suspect that someone has a weapon.

Flexible packages to improve outcomes

As a result of an appropriate assessment, establishments may consider the use of individualised, planned packages of support that may include time in onsite school support and offsite support 'centres' in order to prevent exclusion. Partners from within and outwith the education authority should, where possible, support schools in providing packages of support to engage children and young people across all sectors. In such cases, the assessment and planning team may consider the use of college and vocational placements; community learning and development programmes; social work and third sector interventions. However, schools should seek to ensure that children and young people attend school or another learning environment for the recommended 25 hours in primary schools and 27.5 hours for secondary schools [28] . Whilst establishments in partnership with education authorities may agree that the needs of a child or young person are best met through a reduction in the number of hours spent at school for a limited period, this should be carefully negotiated, recorded and monitored. This arrangement can now be recorded as a separate code through the SEEMiS system as outlined in Section 8.

Sending home without excluding

All exclusions from school must be formally recorded. Children and young people must not be sent home on an 'informal exclusion' or sent home to 'cool-off'.

Following an incident where the decision is made that the child or young person cannot remain in school, for one of the reasons specified in regulation 4 of the Schools General (Scotland) Regulations 1975 as amended, this must be recorded as an exclusion. This will ensure transparency, allow for appropriate monitoring and enable support to be put in place through the education authority's staged intervention system.


Email: Douglas Forrester

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top