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Councils called in over black exclusions

Government acts on TES findings. Frances Rafferty and Karen Thornton report.

Ministers have demanded action from councils whose schools expel large numbers of black teenagers after a TES investigation revealed some authorities were 15 times more likely to exclude Caribbean boys than their white classmates.

Nationally black pupils are more than three times at risk of expulsion than white children. But last December the TES survey, based on government figures, found that in some areas, including Trafford, Surrey, Essex and Sutton in London, that risk runs into double figures.

Last year, the Government told 52 authorities with high ethnic exclusion rates to set targets in their behaviour support plans.

Now council officials have been called into the Department for Education and Employment to give minister Charles Clarke an account of their plans.

The disproportionate rate of black exclusions emerged as a major concern of the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, published last week. It proposed that all schools publish annual details of exclusions, broken down by ethnic minority.

The DFEE said its action, although timely, was not a response to the report on Stephen Lawrence, but had been prompted by the TES investigation and concerns expressed by the Commission for Racial Equality.

A spokesman said: "We are not hanging these councils out to dry. We want to have a constructive debate about the way forward, in partnership."

Emma Westcott, a Local Government Association officer, said she supported the move: "We are not happy about the situation in a number of authorities. But naming and shaming councils will not work - it is schools and not councils which exclude children."

Graham Lane, the LGA's education chair, said some authorities, for example Newham in London, are notified by schools if a black pupil is about to be expelled. "These early warning systems appear to be working and in most cases the school will be offered support," said Mr Lane, who is chair of education in the borough.

A spokesman for a London authority invited to the DFEE by Mr Clarke also welcomed the opportunity for consultations on ethnic-minority exclusions.

"I don't think this meeting is to rap knuckles, it's for genuine discussion," he said.

The DFEE's meetings with authorities follow continuing calls from the Commission for Racial Equality for monitoring of exclusions by ethnic group.

The DFEE is maintaining a cautious view of the Macpherson report's recommendations. It seems unlikely to start publishing school-by-school tables of racist incidents, nor is it likely that local authorities will be given new powers to promote multi-cultural teaching, as the report proposes.

There may be guidance to address multi-cultural issues during citizenship lessons, but it is understood there are no plans to rewrite the national curriculum.

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