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Black exclusions scandal;Platform;Opinion

Sir Herman Ouseley calls for urgent measures to staunch the flow of ethnic-minority children who are being shown the door

THE ANGER and frustration felt by those reading the report "Blacks 15 times more likely to be excluded" (TES, December 11) will be understood when it is recognised that this problem has been with us for more than 20 years. The situation is not getting better. It may be getting worse. For ethnic-minority pupils to be 15 times more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts in a given local education authority provides sufficient grounds for the Commission For Racial Equality to launch a formal investigation into that authority's practices.

The commission, of which I am chair, will not hesitate to do this. I have written to all directors of education making clear that we are no longer prepared to let this travesty of education and individual rights continue. The commission will scrutinise exclusions data LEA by LEA and will talk to those that demonstrate trends such as these.

That is what the commission is doing. But what of the LEAs themselves, and what about the Government? Why did it take The TES to reveal this situation? LEAs, after all, collect ethnic data on exclusions, and submit them to the Departmentfor Education and Employment. In February, the department wrote to LEAs with disproportionately high ethnic-minority exclusions drawing their attention to that fact. Is that adequate? Who in the DFEE's pupil inclusion division decided not to publish data analysis that clearly illuminated these trends? Which minister accepted advice to this effect, or was advised in a partial and ultimately misleading way?

Those who may ponder the answers to such questions may well like also to consider what they would say to an audience of black parents on the subject, not how they might deflect the criticisms of the CRE.

If data came into the public arena showing that the children of nurses were 15 times more likely than the children of parents with other occupations to be excluded from school I believe there would, entirely properly, be uproar. Ministers would be demanding explanations. Questions would be asked in The House. TV and radio programmes would be grilling directors of education, extracting pledges of action from ministers and interviewing parents and children who had been affected. It is remarkable, but increasingly unsurprising, that such a natural and proper response to The TES story has been unforthcoming. It seems acceptable for black children to be treated in this way. Indeed the emphasis in the feature on the grossest of the rates of over-representation may almost lead us to be sanguine about the performance of LEAs in which ethnic minorities are excluded only at the national average rate of 3.4 times that of their white classmates.

We have had forests of guidance and advice on this issue and wider questions of race and education, some of it within a time frame able to impact on the exclusions data under discussion. In 1997 the CRE published research showing what it was that low excluding schools did to achieve this situation. In 1998 the DFEE published Making The Difference: Teaching and Learning Strategies in Successful Multi-ethnic Schools, the result of painstaking research by a team from the Open University. Only last week the Runneymede Trust published Improving Practice: A Whole School Approach to Raising the Achievement of African Caribbean Youth. The Government's Social Exclusion Unit itself published its first report on reducing truancy and exclusion from school. Self-evidently, advice is ignored.

The CRE has a duty, in these circumstances, to intervene with its legal powers. We have, after all, tried the encouragement route and provided models of good practice and advice. Government, however, also has a duty to take determined steps to eliminate discrimination from exclusions.

It is now time for the Government to establish a target date for eliminating ethnic-minority over-representation from the excluded population. Unless this is done, it will be possible to meet the SEU target of reducing exclusions by one-third by 2002, while still allowing massive over-representation of ethnic minorities to lurk beneath apparently favourable and decreasing overall levels of exclusion. Meeting targets will require changes in practice. The vast body of research mentioned above provides guidance on how. What is still lacking - and the figures tell the story - is the will to act at national and local level.

The ministerial advisory group on raising the achievement of ethnic-minority pupils and the Social Exclusion Unit truancy and exclusion practitioner group ought now to be determining a clear strategy for removing racism from exclusions. If they are not doing this what are they doing? Ministers should be demanding nothing less.

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