SCHOOL exclusion figures dropped dramatically after the Government issued tough new guidelines for dealing with difficult pupils, latest statistics show.
The number of pupils excluded fell by 18 per cent to 8,600 in 1999-00, down from 10,400 in the previous year. All but meeting the Government's own target of 8,400 by 2002, it represents a fall of almost a third since peaking at 12,700 in 1996-97.
But the reduction may not be sustained in the current academic year.
Education Secretary David Blunkett was forced to water down the summer 1999 guidance on pupil support, only months after it was issued, by teacher unions angry that violent pupils were being kept in schools. He has said he will not impose further targets.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the guidance had led to "artificially low" figures for 1999-00. "This was the year in which the Government's disastrous advice to governing bodies and appeals panels caused many disruptive pupils to be returned wrongly to the classroom. It was a very difficult year for headteachers."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "The target was never justifiable and led to totally unacceptable pressure being placed on schools to retain or reinstate violent and disruptive pupils."
Mr Blunkett said government spending had climbed ten-fold on in-school learning support units, pupil-referral units and other initiatives, such as learning mentors, targeting children at risk of exclusion. He added that heads were being given the full support they needed to tackle disruptive and violent behaviour, including exclusion where appropriate.
The number of appeals lodged by parents against exclusion was down on the previous year, but the number of successful appeals was up - with more than a third decided in the parents' favour. The Department for Education and Employment sent revised guidance to appeal panels last August, advising them that exclusions for violent or disruptive behaviour should not be overruled. It believes the number of successful appeals this year is lower than the previous ear.
Theresa May, shadow education secretary, said a Conservative government would abolish independent appeal panels. Labour should be ashamed of putting "the rights of the unruly minority ahead of the mainstream majority", she added.
Go to www.dfee.gov.uk for copies of SFR 202001, Permanent Exclusions from Schools and Exclusion Appeals, England 199900. The figures are provisional and could change. Final figures are due to be published in September
FIVE TIMES EXCLUDED - NOW MENDING HER WAYS
Last spring, headteacher Mike Boswell was dodging media calls about some of his teachers threatening to walk out if they were made to teach a seven-year-old who had been excluded five times.
The girl at St Chad's Roman Catholic primary school was alleged to have spat at and kicked a teacher, but was reinstated by an independent appeal panel. Now, a year later, the girl is still at the Manchester school and making good progress. Other pupils are benefiting from the appointment of two learning mentors last November.
"A lot of negotiation went on and eventually everyone agreed to a reintegration package," said Mr Boswell. "Thanks to the dedication and support of the local authority and the school staff, she's made good progress in the classroom."
He says the learning mentors, paid for with cash from the Excellence in Cities initiative, have helped a lot in a school where 67 per cent of pupils are eligible for free meals. "They are contributing significantly to breaking down the barriers that these children face - anything that prevents them from success, be it behavioural problems, a death in the family, or a mum who is depressed."
Reflecting on the reduction in exclusions (see above) he added: "Children's behaviour will always be an issue in schools. It's no more than before. It's probably a lot better because awareness of exclusions has been heightened across the country. The Government has pumped so much money into social inclusion."
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers authorised members to refuse to teach violent or disruptive pupils 33 times in the first three months of this year. Another 16 cases were authorised last month - already exceeding the total expected in a full year.