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Report finds children with disabilities more at risk of suspension from school

A report has recently found that children with disabilities and children of colour, particularly black children, are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates” compared to white, non-disabled children.

This report comes from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, a group of 26 experts from fields of social science, education and law at Indiana University.

The group argue that this is a trend which is fuelling inequality in US schools.

The research shows that children with disabilities are suspended nearly twice as often as others, with students from minority backgrounds and homosexual, bisexual and transgender students also at higher risk of suspension.

In addition, suspensions on the whole have doubled since the 1970s, with data indicating that during the 2009-2010 school year, over 3 million students were suspended in the US.

This report comes just two months after the Obama administration issued guidance to reduce the number of children suspended or referred to law enforcement.

Whilst the numbers of students suspended in the UK are different, research in UK schools also suggests that disabled children are disproportionately suspended or excluded.

Ambitious about Autism found that thousands of children with autism are being illegally excluded from schools in England through ‘informal’ exclusions, such as asking parents to keep their child at home, miss school trips and activities, or pick their child up from school early.

Russell Skiba, the director of the collaborative at Indiana University, states: “Far from making our schools safer or improving student behaviour, the steadily increasing use of suspension and expulsion puts students — especially students of colour and other targeted groups — at an increased risk of academic disengagement, dropout and contact with juvenile justice.”

The group also state that ‘bad’ students should not be removed from the classroom so that ‘good’ children can learn, as they found no evidence of the benefits of this.

Alternatively, the report recommends prevention programmes, and a focus on problem-solving when disciplinary situations arise.

It is clear that schools are often ill equipped to deal with ‘difficult’ students, and suspensions appear to be an easy, convenient way out.

However, the report suggests that suspensions and exclusions have damaging long-term consequences, as students from targeted groups, such as those with disabilities, are missing out on education at a disproportionate rate, and are therefore likely to fall behind.

As a result, these children are then at a disadvantage, which may have implications for their adult life, in terms of employment, and consequently their income, housing and ultimately their health and well-being.

It is evident that more must be done to ensure schools receive the right guidance and facilities to support students with disabilities, and the correct procedures must be followed before suspensions.

The report makes several policy proposals, suggesting that restorative practices can replace a punitive approach to discipline with a more constructive, collaborative and humane approach which embraces all members of the community.

Other recommendations include teacher training programmes focused on student engagement, investment in social and emotional learning strategies, and positive behavioural interventions and supports.

Research shows that these approaches result in fewer suspensions, decreased disciplinary referrals, and improved academic achievement.

Further reading:

If you wish to read the full report, please click here.


Originally written by myself on


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About Poppy Reece

Hi, I'm Poppy. I graduated from Essex Uni with a Social Psychology and Sociology degree, and now work in the Youth Support Team at Suffolk County Council. I also write articles for disability charity Dancing Giraffe when I can. I'm interested in issues of poverty, inequality, politics, social justice, and health. I plan to use this blog to write about issues which I feel passionately about, comment on news stories which take my interest, and simply post stories and information which may be of interest.

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