Excluding Children from School May Lead to Long-term Mental Health Problems

Excluding Children from School May Lead to Long-term Mental Health Problems

Research published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that the onset of a new mental disorder may be a consequence of exclusion from school. Excluded children can develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioral problems. There can be a long-term impact on education and progress by excluding a child from school. This study suggests that their mental health may also deteriorate.

The study is the most rigorous study of the impact of exclusion from school among the general population so far and included a standardized assessment of children’s difficulties.

Excluding children from school

Consistently poor behavior in the classroom is the main reason for school exclusion, with many students, mainly of junior and senior high school age, facing repeated dismissal. Relatively few students are expelled from school; even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

Identifying children who struggle in class could, if coupled with tailored support, prevent exclusion and improve their success at school, and avoid exclusion that might precipitate future mental disorders.

For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes then from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again. As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool. For these children it encourages the very behavior that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behavior, schools can help children’s mental health in the future as well as their education.

Exclusion from school is more common among boys, high school students, and those living in socio-economically deprived circumstances. Poor general health and learning disabilities, as well as having parents with mental illness, is also associated with exclusion.

The analysis by the research team studied responses from over 5,000 school-aged children, their parents, and their teachers. They found that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum conditions were more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

Excluding children from schoolWhen they followed up on their progress, the researchers found that there were more children with mental disorders among those who had been excluded from school, than among those who had not. The research team omitted children who had a previous mental disorder from this analysis.

The researchers concluded there is a ‘bi-directional association’ between psychological distress and exclusion: children with psychological distress and mental-health problems are more likely to be excluded in the first place but exclusion predicted increased levels of psychological distress three years later.

Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider. Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school.

Most research into the impact of exclusion has so far involved the study of individuals’ experience and narratives from much smaller groups of people chosen because of their experience, which may not be entirely representative.

This study included an analysis of detailed questionnaires filled in by children, parents and teachers, as well as an assessment of disorders by child psychiatrists. The researchers drew on data from over 5,000 children in two linked surveys and compared their responses with students who had been excluded. This sample from the general population included over 200 children who had experienced at least one exclusion.

Support for children whose behavior challenges school systems is important. Timely intervention may prevent exclusion from school as well as future mental health problems. A number of vulnerable children may face exclusion from school that might be avoided with appropriate interventions.

Researchers also added, given the established link between children’s behavior, classroom climate and teachers’ mental health, burn out and self-efficacy, greater availability of timely support for children whose behavior is challenging might also improve teachers’ productivity and school effectiveness.


Authored by:  Kiara Moore, PhD, LCSW

Journal Reference:  T. Ford, C. Parker, J. Salim, R. Goodman, S. Logan, W. Henley. The relationship between exclusion from school and mental health: a secondary analysis of the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys 2004 and 2007. Psychological Medicine, 2017; 1 – Retrieved August 30, 2017 from ScienceDaily