They say schools need to 'balance the pursuit for academic excellence with student wellbeing.'
Oxford University experts have been discussing the disruption caused by the pandemic, with professionals from health, education, criminal justice voluntary organisations and councils.
Their new Excluded Lives report questions how at-risk-of-exclusion students might be identified and what return to school support exists, or can now be developed.
It raises issues around transitions back to school settings, and concerns about how 'connected' schools are with vulnerable students.
Ian Thompson, Associate Professor of Education at Oxford said, 'We know the impact of COVID-19 on schools is substantial for practitioners and students. The social and emotional disruption caused by the pandemic and the subsequent school closures is highly likely to have increased or exacerbated student anxiety and other mental health issues.
'There is also a concern with school connectedness for vulnerable students, whose patterns of school attendance have been disrupted. These concerns raise issues around transitions back to school settings.'
The report highlights that safeguarding and education are inextricably linked and emphasises that regulations need to 'allow for agile and flexible services which meet the needs of those most at risk.'
It says schools, which are well placed to be a key service, need supporting to be proactive rather than reactive in their approach.
Professor Harry Daniels said, 'All children will have experienced some adverse effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, but for some these will be traumatic and long lasting and this may impact negatively on whether and how they return to school, and the likelihood of formal, informal and self-exclusion.
'Those adversely affected by COVID-19 are extremely diverse. This suggests there is a need to think beyond conventional and recognised categories of vulnerability.
'This calls for a needs-based holistic approach involving good collaboration and communication within and between services and flexible and responsive curricula. Now is the time for schools to reconsider the role of education, take back control over their educational offer and balance the pursuit for academic excellence with student wellbeing.'
Exclusions have risen sharply in England in the last few years.
The Oxford team says heightened anxiety, bereavement, poverty, disconnection from schooling and the digital divide have heightened the risk for children and young people who were already struggling with aspects of schooling and have produced new unexpected categories of risk.