Disruptive and challenging pupils should be removed from the classroom and possibly excluded from school if their behaviour upsets the learning of others and is way out of order, Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector, re-emphasised this week at the launch of the HMI's key report on inclusion, Count us in.
But exclusion should not be "out of sight, out of mind" as often happened in the past. Too many young people fail to benefit from school and struggle in later life. All pupils should receive high quality education, although not necessarily in school, the senior chief said.
Teachers' unions and heads have complained about the apparent "inclusion at all costs" approach of ministers and local authorities, and have suddenly found support in an unexpected quarter for at least some of their grievances.
But Mr Donaldson insists inclusion and raising attainment are companions, not enemies. The best teachers and schools manage both and focus on individual pupils.
In reaching out to the profession, he said there was no point in having to cope with the disruptive behaviour of some, if others were disadvantaged. "I have every sympathy with teachers who are taking very difficult decisions daily in terms of balancing the needs of an individual youngster as against the needs of a class as a whole."
Mr Donaldson said: "There are circumstances where withdrawing children or even excluding children from school is the correct way of doing things. The critical thing is that where this is done, it is done in a way that safeguards the interests of the child being excluded. Any alternative provision has to be high quality, have routes back in and not be cut off from the mainstream."
Inclusion was not absolute and did not mean all pupils should be involved in mainstream classes or in the standard curriculum, a theme that chimes with the new ministerial mantra of ending the "one size fits all" school.
The HMI investigation into inclusion is the result of extensive analysis of best practice in a representative selection of primaries and secondaries across the country, plus commissioned in-depth research. It develops recent changes to education legislation, such as the entitlement to mainstreaming for pupils with special educational needs, and national initiatives such as new community schools.
Mr Donaldson explained that a significant number of different groups could gain more from school, including the disaffected, SEN pupils in mainstream, those with emotional and behavioural difficulties and anyone who might be discriminated against because of their race or religion.
This was, however, a longstanding challenge with an international dimension, although Scotland did not do as well as others in pulling up those on the margins. As a young teacher, the senior chief faced the Newsome and Brunton reports on providing appropriate education for all pupils.
"Schools today are very different from 30 years ago and there have been quite striking and dramatic improvements but in relative terms, some groups of youngsters have not made the kind of progress they should. We've raised the bar, but the gap has not been closed as much as it should," he said.
A fresh element was the recognition that schools could not do it alone, as they had perhaps in the past. Parents, other agencies and the community had to be involved if many more were to benefit from education. "The fact that we're talking about a concerted approach to this is important. We're talking about the school operating in conjunction with a whole range of other professionals who support schools," Mr Donaldson said.
A series of HMI reports over the next few months will develop the inclusion theme. First up is a review of SEN pupils in mainstream, followed by an investigation into the way schools and local authorities are responding to the recommendations of the discipline task group. A further report will probe the impact of the new duties on schools and councils under the fresh race relations legislation.
"Count us in: Achieving Inclusion in Scottish Schools" is published by HM Inspectorate of Education.
LINK OFFICERS HELP AUTHORITY TO TURN ABSENCES AROUND
Simply being at school is part of the inclusion agenda in Fife, which has turned in its best showing in recent years in the national attendance statistics, published last week.
Nineteen home-school link officers have helped secondaries record their lowest number of unauthorised absences for five years, though family holidays continue to take their toll. Link officers, working with every secondary and their associated primaries, offer support at home or school. Debbie Taylor, officer at Auchmuty High, Glenrothes, said: "There can be a wide range of reasons why pupils are absent from school. In many cases there is an underlying anxiety which may be from difficulties at home or concerns over their performance in particular areas of the curriculum."
Nationally, 53,000 pupils are now absent from schools every day. The absence rate is 5.1 per cent in primaries and 11.1 per cent in secondaries. The SNP claims unauthorised absence rates are soaring and that ministers have failed to meet their targets.