AFRICAN-CARIBBEAN boys have long been over-represented in school exclusions statistics. But other ethnic groups are now giving cause for concern.
A new survey of 30 local education authorities by the National Foundation for Educational Research suggests that exclusion rates have been increasing for Bangladeshi boys and African-Caribbean girls.
Researchers also note that the exclusion statistics were often inadequate.
Authority staff who were interviewed by the foundation's researchers said that the higher-than-average exclusion rates for certain ethnic groups and nationalities - such as Croatians - were not reflected in the figures.
Most local authority programmes for excluded pupils are inundated with referrals. The caseload is especially heavy in London, where the number of African-Caribbean exclusions remains disproportionately high.
And the LEAs' concerns were not just confined to race: the high exclusion rate for youngsters with special needs was another worry.
"The head of the behaviour support service in one authority quoted figures showing that statemented pupils accounted for 20 per cent of excluded youngsters but only 2 per cent of the school population," say the researchers, who carried out their study last spring.
Some teenagers had been out of school for up to a year before finally being admitted to a pupil-referral unit.
Even when pupils got nto a referral unit, the lack of facilities, equipment and specialist staff helped to compound their problems. It was often impossible, for example, to offer classes in design and technology, science or modern languages.
The researchers say that, although many of the unit staff were committed to their work, they felt undervalued. They complained about lack of training and under-investment in their centres, which were often regarded as "dump" services.
Some authorities were also concerned about the number of pupils being permanently excluded for misusing drugs. Staff in two authorities claimed that schools were not always willing to acknowledge that an exclusion was drugs-related.
And interviewees in four authorities highlighted the lack of drugs advice and rehabilitation services for under-16s.
But the foundation's study also contains positive messages.
It describes model programmes for excluded pupils and provides checklists of strategies for successfully re-integrating children back into mainstream education.
The researchers highlight the need for such programmes to have proper levels of staffing, opportunities for "constructive leisure" and personalised learning programmes.
They say: "The permanently excluded cannot be automatically channelled into one type of provision. What works for one pupil, may not work for another..."
The study's authors acknowledge that the cost of individually-tailored programmes is high but they warn that the cost of not providing such services could be very much higher.