School exclusions are on the rise

The Youth Sport Trust and Leeds Beckett University have together funded a PhD studentship that will explore what role PE (and sport), in a range of alternative provision settings, plays in supporting the transition of young people back into mainstream schools.

Claudia Andrews is a proud graduate of Leeds Beckett University, gaining qualifications in Physical Education BA (Hons) and Physical Education and Youth Sport (MA). Inspired to continue studying to promote lifelong engagement and create inclusive physical activity settings, Claudia is currently pursuing a PhD at Leeds Beckett University in collaboration with the Youth Sport Trust surrounding Physical Education in Alternative Provision Settings.

School exclusions are on the rise

School exclusion is directly related to behavioural problems and negative learning outcomes including antisocial behaviour, delinquency, entry into the juvenile system, decreased employment opportunities, alienation, missed academic activities, low grades, dropout, and demotivation towards academic success. In the 2022/2023 autumn term, the Department for Education noted that there were 3,100 permanent exclusions and 247,400 fixed period exclusions (when a child is temporarily removed from school). If a fixed period exclusion is longer than 5 days, the school which they were removed from must organise a suitable replacement education such as an alternative provision.

This is so important because?

When a child/young person receives a fixed period exclusion and is placed in alternative provision, the main goal is to reintegrate them back into a mainstream education setting. However, reintegration into mainstream school can present a number of challenges, and often results in pupils being excluded again and referred back to alternative provision, including pupil referral unit’s, multiple times.

What role can PE play?

One subject that is perhaps underutilised, and that could play a key role in supporting pupils’ reintegration into mainstream school is PE. PE promotes the development of social skills through working cooperatively - following directions, taking turns, dealing with a range of emotions and using appropriate forms of communication. Inclusive practices in PE that focus on social interaction, learning how to interact with peers and relationship building can positively impact the learning environment and student development. 

A recent Youth Sport Trust report noted that over half of practitioners working in alternative provision identified the development of social skills as a key purpose of PE. Schools are clearly an important setting for the development of friendships, social identity, and creating a sense of community belonging. Importantly, research by Bailey (2016) suggests frequent physical activity and play experiences (often through PE) can help children and young people develop friendships, which is helpful for those with poor social skills.

PE also enables pupils to experience positive interactions. Children and young people who have formed a positive relationship with their PE teacher have been reported to be better able to control their emotions during stressful situations or conflict. Research suggests that this results in a decrease in behavioural problems, depression, and anxiety. PE can also promote a fun and motivational climate amongst pupils and eliminate stress, which helps to foster a positive relationship between student satisfaction, the PE curriculum, and the school system.

Finally, life skills can be promoted through PE, with numerous empirical studies suggesting that individuals who participate in sport report to have higher levels of emotional regulation, social skills, self-esteem, problem solving, and goal attainment. Social skills, positive interactions and broader life skills are all thought to be key to supporting a positive reintegration back into a mainstream school. 

What can schools do?

There are three key things that alternative provision schools could do – through PE – to help pupils develop the skills necessary for a positive interaction:

  1. Identify ways to foster positive relationships between pupils and teachers – this could be done through teachers taking part and playing games together in PE.
  2. Reframe competition to focus more on fostering internal motivation, a love of movement and provide opportunities for pupils to feel a sense of achievement - this could be achieved using the Youth Sport Trust's My Personal Best (teaching of Life Skills through PE; or the School Games competition formats).
  3. Provide opportunities for interaction where students can work together and engage in discussion.

How can you help?

At the moment, there is no empirical research investigating the impact that PE (and sport) delivered in alternative provision has on the transition of pupils back into mainstream school. However, the Youth Sport Trust and Leeds Beckett University have together funded a PhD studentship that will explicitly explore what role PE (and sport), in a range of alternative provision settings, plays in supporting the transition of young people back into mainstream schools. This exciting research will work with teachers and listen to the voices and experiences of pupils to consider what aspects of PE and the curriculum are considered beneficial for reintegration. If you would like to be involved, please let us know.



Bailey, R. (2016) Sport, physical activity and educational achievement – towards an explanatory model. Sport in Society, 20(1) pp. 1-21.

Department for Education (2023) Suspension and permanent exclusions in England. [Online]. GOV.UK. Available from: <> [Accessed 14th March 2024].

Youth Sport Trust (2024) My Personal Best. [Online]. Available from: <> [Accessed 18th March 2024].

Published on 3 April 2024