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Exclusions policy myth

I FEAR it is your editorial which is confused about Government policy on exclusions ( "Exclusions confusion", TES, August 4), not the policy itself.

It has never been our intention to prevent heads excluding very disruptive pupils: David Blunkett made this clear in January and at teaching union conferences in the spring. My announcement at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference followed his promise to the National Association of Head Teachers to look at how appeal panels were treating serious cases.

However, the increased investment which we are making - pound;140m this year compared to just pound;17m in 1996-97 - is helping provide both extra learning support units and a much better deal for excluded pupils. It has never been a question of one or the other despite the ridiculous attempts by some to claim that it must be.

We have tripled the average time those excluded spend being educated and will fund an increase to 25 hours a week schooling for all excluded pupils by 2002.

There are also more off-site pupil referral units than before, with students on roll up from 7,500 at the election to 8,500 now and 250 more teachers employed.

Schools are also buying places with the extra funds in volunary sector centres.

Exclusions fell from 12,300 in 1997-98 to 10,400 in 1998-99. We are already halfway to meeting our target of cutting permanent exclusions by a third.

We have never sought to meet the target by preventing heads from excluding pupils who need to be excluded. David Blunkett clearly acknowledged this when it was clear that our guidance was being too rigidly interpreted.

Our approach is clear. We are funding more on-site provision to help teachers get disruptive pupils out of the classroom quickly and to deal with lesser disciplinary problems. This reduces avoidable exclusions.

We will ensure that where heads have to exclude their decisions are upheld and those youngsters get a full-time education.

That is a rounded approach, not "confusion". Ministers recognise this problem doesn't have simplistic solutions and are ready to improve guidance when it is not working as intended.

Our approach is also a vast improvement on the situation we inherited, where exclusions rose dramatically and the excluded were left to their own devices, causing mayhem for the wider community.

Jacqui Smith MP

Schools minister

Department for Education and Employment, London SW1

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