Being excluded from school can lead to long-term health and wellbeing problems

Secondary school pupils sitting at desks taking exam.

A study using Next Steps data has found that being excluded from school as a teenager can impact people’s physical and mental health into adulthood.

Understanding the impact

Exclusion can be a marker of young people already having health difficulties.

Young people who have been excluded from school are also already more likely to be vulnerable, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds, growing up in care or with statements of special educational needs.

Because of this, until now, it has been hard for researchers to understand how much of an impact being excluded from school has on students’ long-term health.

What we asked you

The researchers drew on information your parents gave us about whether you had ever been suspended or excluded from school between the ages of 13/14 and 16/17.

As part of the Age 25 Survey, we asked you questions about your health, such as your sleep habits, whether you smoked every day, and whether you practised any sports regularly. We also asked about your mental health and wellbeing.

A team of researchers at the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford analysed this data along with information we’d collected during your teenage years about your physical and mental health, what you thought about school and your home life.

What the research found

As none of the study members who took part in the Age 25 Survey had been excluded from a private school, the researchers’ analysis focussed on the experiences of those who had attended mainstream schools.

They found that compared to other students, boys and those from a disadvantaged background were more likely to be excluded from school between ages 13 and 17. Black Caribbean students and those with special educational needs were also more likely to be excluded.

Worse health and wellbeing

Students who had been permanently excluded from school were more likely to report worse health and wellbeing in the Age 25 Survey than those who had been suspended, or who had never been suspended or excluded. They were also more likely to smoke and have trouble sleeping, less likely to engage with sports, and felt less satisfaction with life.

Why this research matters

School exclusion is rising. According to the Department for Education, the number of permanent exclusions from secondary school increased by nearly 50% from 2021 to 2023.

This research shows that some of the most vulnerable students are being excluded from school, and this is setting them up for worse health and wellbeing in later life.

The authors highlight that being excluded from school separates the most vulnerable children from not only the self-esteem boost that comes with belonging to a school community, but also from nurturing relationships with peers and teachers.

This supportive school environment can help young people’s sense of wellbeing, reduce their stress levels, and might help them to take up healthier habits into adulthood.

They said:

“Our study suggests that there is a detrimental long-term effect of school exclusion on health… Policies should ensure access to relevant health support for pupils who experience a school exclusion but more importantly they should strongly discourage the use of school exclusion as a disciplinary strategy.”

Find out more about this research

The impact of school exclusion in childhood on health and well-being outcomes in adulthood by Ingrid Obsuth, Joan E Madia, Aja L Murray, Ian Thompson, Harry Daniels was published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.