Rise in number of excluded pupils

The number of children expelled from school has risen for the first time since Labour came to power, official figures showed today.

There were 9,210 permanent exclusions from English primary, secondary and special schools in the last full school year, 2000-01, up 11% from the 1999-2000 total of 8,323.

The number of five to 11-year-olds expelled jumped 19% to 1,460 from 1,266 while the figure for 11 to 16-year-olds in mainstream comprehensives rose 10% to 7,410 from 6,713.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris was said to be relaxed about the rise.

She has been taking an increasingly hard line on school discipline in recent months, and has removed the restrictions on headteachers which saw the exclusion rate plummet from its 1996-97 peak of 12,700.

The Government set a target that the total should have fallen by a third by September 2002, but that will not be met, and Ms Morris announced last year that no new goals would be set after it fell to within 200 of the line.

Headteachers welcomed the lifting of constraints on their powers to eject pupils for bad behaviour, that was reaffirmed in January.

And they hailed this week's announcement that they should automatically expel any child caught dealing drugs, even if it was a first offence.

Ms Morris issued a warning to local authority independent appeals panels not to overturn expulsions for dealing.

The panels have been a target of repeated attacks from the unions, who say they force schools to re-admit sometimes extremely violent and disruptive youngsters.

The figures showed that, while the number of appeals rose from 948 to 1,095, or nearly 10%, the proportion upheld fell 1% to 314, or less than one in four.

Like ministers, the teacher unions have been taking an increasingly uncompromising stance on discipline.

Even the traditionally more liberal National Union of Teachers has called for primary heads to have the power to refer potential problem pupils to an educational psychologist for reports before admission.

The Department for Education and Skills said £600 million had been spent on providing alternative schooling for expelled pupils.

Thousands of in-school "learning support units" have been set up where children in danger of getting themselves thrown out can cool off, be advised by "learning mentors" and in some cases be taught separately for a while.

It is understood the DfES is confident of meeting another September 2002 target - making full-time education in special "pupil referral units" for excluded pupils available in every English local education authority.

The figures showed that secondary pupils were still more than seven times more likely to be expelled than primary age children and boys accounted for 83% of the total.

A breakdown showed 61% were aged 14-16, with 14-year-olds the group most likely to have to leave for unruliness.

About 13 in every 10,000 children were expelled during the period, but the figure for black Caribbean pupils was still far higher than the rest, at 38 in 10,000 compared with 13 in 10,000 for whites and three in 10,000 in the case of their Indian peers.

Pupils with special educational needs, including emotional and behavioural difficulties, severe enough to require extra help, were three times as likely to be excluded as others.

Ms Morris said: "Exclusion is a last resort and is only used with good reason.

"Our priority is to support headteachers who take tough decisions when dealing with bad or criminal behaviour.

"But we also have made sure that excluded pupils are given full-time education and don't roam the streets.

"That is why we've invested £600 million since 1999 in over 300 pupil referral units and why, from September, every excluded pupil will have access to full-time study."

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