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Exclusion by another name

Apparently exclusions are down across the country - or are they? Billy in Year 10 has had problems throughout his schooling. He has minor learning difficulties, lots of energy and a family that does not value formal education. Billy is disruptive in class and at risk of exclusion. He is time-consuming for teachers and will affect his school's league tables unless action is taken.

It is suggested to Billy and his mother that a package of education be put in place as an alternative to exclusion. He will spend two days a week studying car mechanics with an alternative provider. Billy thinks that sounds better than school. His mother is told she is responsible for finding a work experience placement for another two days a week and that he should report to his head of year on Fridays. The programme is due to start after the next holiday and no one bothers about the last three weeks of the summer term.

Billy attends his course on the first day, but he gradually realises that no one really monitors his attendance. He takes longer and longer breaks and then starts bunking off. One day he buys a spliff from an older boy who says he can pay next week. He cannot afford to pay so he does not return to the placement. His mother tries hard to organise the work experience, but by the time all the health and safety papers are completed Uncle Jack's business has gone bust, so she gives up.

Billy attends school on Fridays, but one week the head of year is on a course so the secretary tells him to go home. The next week he is dealing with an incident and sets Billy some work to do in his office. Billy is bored and lonely, so he leaves. Billy does not bother to go the following week; nothing happens so he stops going completely. He is now halfway through Year 11. It is too late for him to achieve much so no one bothers.

His mother is happy as Billy is working unofficially and bringing some money into the house. No one rings her to complain about his behaviour. The alternative provider is happy as it has the money for Billy's place, but does not have to deal with his "behaviour management" or "child protection", which it has yet to organise training for. The school is happy as it is an "inclusive" school. Teachers never see Billy, but mark him in the register as "educated off site". The local authority and the government are happy as exclusions are down.

Everyone is happy but, actually, Billy left school in Year 10 and no one cares unless he has an accident or commits a serious crime.

Becky Durston, Retired head of a pupil referral unit, Essex.

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