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Excluded pupils still out in cold

Idle pupils out of school are far more likely to offend, so why are some still not gettingfull-time education? Michael Shaw, Biddy Passmore and Tamsin Snow report

MANY excluded pupils are still waiting for the full-time education promised by ministers.

By today, every excluded pupil in 400 schools targeted by the Government's behaviour improvement programme should have been getting full-time teaching from the first day of their exclusion.

The schools, spread across 34 education authorities, were selected because they suffered high levels of truancy and were in areas plagued by street crime.

But targeted schools in at least 10 of the 34 authorities have still not met today's deadline, The TES has established. Many cited difficulties recruiting staff to teach the children who could be on either permanent or fixed-term exclusions.

Research for the Youth Justice Board has found that excluded pupils are three times more likely to commit crime than those in class.

But some authorities have questioned the need for guaranteed education from day one. They suggest parents should bear some of the responsibility for excluded chidren. They also point to the high cost of out-of-school support and say it only encourages heads to exclude.

A Westminster Council spokesman said: "It sends out the wrong message about short-term exclusions, making schools and LEAs responsible for their children's behaviour instead of parents".

"Providing alternative provision might also encourage schools to use exclusions - though that is not an issue in Westminster because schools share our concerns about the scheme's philosophy." He said he would prefer money to be spent on measures to stop pupils being excluded in the first place.

But one authority that has introduced the full behaviour improvement programme, including "day one" provision, has seen a sharp fall in exclusions. At the four secondary schools taking part in the programme in Slough, fixed-term exclusions plummeted from 171 in autumn 2001 to 54 last term.

Slough has established a "rapid response team" to help schools deal with difficult pupils. It offers immediate out-of-school education, not just for excluded pupils but for those at risk of exclusion.

Several authorities complained it had been "almost impossible" to meet today's deadline.

In Rochdale the scheme was delayed because a building for excluded students was set on fire, while Salford's project was set back when its premises were emptied by burglars over Christmas.

However, most LEAs involved said that they had achieved the "education from day one" goal this month, and that the behaviour improvement programme - which also includes on-site learning support units - had made a significant impact on pupil behaviour.

Methods used to provide full-time education include teaching in youth centres, pupil referral and learning support units, and swapping pupils between schools.

The Department for Education and Skills said the "day one" objective was challenging but pointed out that authorities had been given funds to pilot ways of doing it.

A DfES spokeswoman applauded the way schools had responded. "It has been very positive to see the different and innovative ways in which schools and authorities have approached this objective," she said.

Education minister Ivan Lewis was due to announce a revamped holiday activities scheme yesterday. Existing projects have faced staffing problems because of cash uncertainties. The new scheme, to begin in May, will have increased funding from the DfES, the Youth Justice Board and the Home Office.

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