ISSUE ADDRESSED: Health promotion with adolescents spans many contexts including schools. Income and its distribution, education and social exclusion are key social determinants of health. Exclusionary school policies such as school suspension contribute to exclusion, increase the likelihood of school dropout (reducing educational and subsequent employment opportunities), and negatively impact on student wellbeing. Often excluded students are from socio-economically disadvantaged areas. This paper examines associations between area level socio-economic status (SES) and school suspension in Australian students. METHODS: Students (8,028) in years 6 (n = 4393) and 8 (n = 3635) completed a comprehensive social development survey administered in schools in 30 socio-economically stratified communities in 2006. RESULTS: Associations between area level SES and school suspension were found. Relative to students in the lowest SES quartile communities, students in mid level and high SES had lower suspension rates. These effects remained after controlling for antisocial behaviour, gender, age and the established risk factors of poor family management, interaction with antisocial peers and academic failure. CONCLUSIONS: Students living in low SES areas are exposed to higher rates of school suspension, at similar levels of adjustment problems. Assisting schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, to foster school engagement is essential for schools committed to health promotion.