Summary of current procedures for suspensions and expulsions
All schools must have a scheme in which the procedures for suspending or expelling pupils are set out. The matters that must be covered by the scheme and the authority responsible for its preparation are set out in legislation. In brief:
- the Education Authority (EA) prepares a scheme in relation to the suspension or expulsion of pupils in controlled schools
- the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) prepares a scheme relation to the suspension or expulsion of pupils in all Catholic maintained schools
- the Board of Governors of each voluntary school, grant-maintained integrated school and Irish-medium school must prepare a scheme specifying the procedure to be followed in relation to the suspension or expulsion of pupils from the school
Under the existing legislation:
- a pupil can be suspended only by the Principal
- an initial suspension must not exceed 5 days
- a pupil can only be suspended for a maximum of 45 school days in a school year
- the Principal cannot extend a period of suspension without the prior approval of the Chair of the Board of Governors
- the Principal must immediately give written notification of a suspension to the parent of the pupil, the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Education Authority Region in which the school is located and (in the case of a pupil at a Catholic maintained school) to CCMS
- it is the duty of the Board of Governors of a grant-aided school to make arrangements for the provision of suitable education to a suspended pupil.
The suspension process is internal to the school and it is the responsibility of the Principal and the Chair of the Board of Governors to ensure it operates in a fair manner. There is currently no independent appeals system against a suspension.
The expulsion of a pupil is legal only if the following requirements are satisfied:
- the pupil has served a period of suspension.
- a consultation has taken place between the Principal, the parent of the pupil, the Chair of the Board of Governors, an authorised officer from the Education Authority and (in the case of a Catholic maintained school) an authorised officer from CCMS (the consultation must include discussion of the future provision of suitable education for the pupil).
- the decision to expel the pupil is made by the appropriate ‘expelling authority’ which is either the Education Authority (in the case of pupils attending controlled schools), or the Board of Governors (in all other cases).
- where a final decision has been taken to expel a pupil, the Principal must immediately notify the parent(s) of their right to appeal that decision to an independent appeal tribunal (established by the Education Authority), and the arrangements and timetable for doing so.
- it is the duty of the Education Authority to make arrangements for the provision of suitable education for children of compulsory school age who have been expelled from a school. The school should advise parents of this.
Circular 2021/04 reminds Boards of Governors and Principals of all grant-aided schools of the current legislative basis for suspensions and expulsions and their statutory responsibility to comply in relation to the provision of education.
- DE Circular 2021/04 Suspensions and Expulsions Arrangements for pupils in grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland
The processes of suspension and expulsion
Notifying the Education Authority (EA)
Schools must notify the EA when a pupil is suspended
Circular 2015/19 provides guidance for schools on notifying the EA of the suspension of a pupil.
- Circular 2015/19 Notification of Pupil Suspension to the Education Authority
- Notification of suspension of a pupil - online form with guidance notes.
Further advice is available at EWS - Suspensions & Expulsions | Education Authority Northern Ireland
There is a right of appeal against an expulsion. Circular 1994/03 contains the Regulations for appeal tribunals for expelled pupils.
Regulating suspension and expulsion in grant-aided schools
Circular 1995/09 summarises the Regulations specifying the matters to be included in schemes for the suspension and expulsion of pupils from grant-aided schools.
Circular 1998/25 advises of new Regulations on the suspension and expulsion of pupils
- Circular 1998/25 Promoting and Sustaining Good Behaviour in Schools: Summary of New Legislative Provisions
Links to the regulations:
- Schools (Suspension and Expulsion of Pupils) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 – SR 1998 No 255(external link opens in a new window / tab)
- Schools (Expulsion of Pupils) (Appeal Tribunals) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 – SR 1998 No 256(external link opens in a new window / tab)
Change to procedures
The consultation document below was published in March 2004. It outlines the findings and recommendations of a review group which was set up to examine suspension and expulsion procedures and contains proposals for change.
The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 contains four provisions which were intended to change the arrangements for the suspension and expulsion of pupils from school. To date, Articles 31, 32 and 33 have yet to be commenced. Article 34 clarifies the legislation on the responsibility for the education of suspended pupils so that it resides with the Board of Governors of the school (rather than the EA) and was commenced in December 2011.
The articles that have not yet been commenced are set out below, for reference:
- Article 31 specifies that all grant-aided schools would be required to use the same scheme for the suspension and expulsion of pupils – a scheme prepared by the Department in consultation with all key interests
- Article 32 sets out arrangements for a new system for appeals against expulsions
- Article 33 sets out new arrangements for appeals against suspensions
Circular 2011/25 advises schools of the commencement of Article 34 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 which places a statutory requirement on Boards of Governors to arrange for the provision of suitable education for registered pupils of the school who have been suspended.
Statistics on suspension and expulsions
Schools are legally obliged to inform the EA when a pupil is suspended or expelled from school. The Department collects statistics on the number of suspensions and expulsions from the EA annually. These statistics can be viewed in the ‘Facts and Figures’ section or by following the link below.