Violent and disruptive pupils are to be kept in schools for periods of up to 16 weeks before they are excluded, under new regulations proposed by the Government.
The Department for Education and Employment's draft guidance School inclusion: pupil support suggests that all children at risk of permanent exclusion or criminal activity should be placed on a "pastoral support programme" before more drastic action is taken.
In effect, then, a local authority has 16 weeks' notice that a pupil could be considered for permanent exclusion - should the proposed interventions fail.
The report maps out the Government's strategy for cutting the rising number of exclusions from schools. Permanent expulsions alone have risen six-fold in the past seven years to more than 13,000 per year.
The pastoral support programme concept is given centre stage as a novel alternative to throwing children out of classes.
"It is now well understood that exclusion blights the life of thousands of children, often those most in need of education," the report says.
"Many pupils excluded from school never get back into mainstream education, making it more likely they will be excluded from society later in life, at a cost to both society and the individuals concerned."
Under the proposals, a school will call a meeting of teachers, parents, a local authority representative and other interested parties when it identifies a pupil at risk. A plan of action would be drawn up, identifying the cause of concern and what was required of the child to remedy it.
The programme would be discussed with all the pupil's teachers and a common strategy for managing the child's behaviour over a specified period would be implemented.
The strategy sets targets, broken down into fortnightly tasks, and identifies rewards for meeting those targets. A member of staff will be assigned to oversee the programme and parents will be closely involved.
At the end of the programme, if no progress has been made, the school may proceed with the permanent exclusion. "(But) it does not follow that at the end of 16 weeks the pupil would be automatically excluded.
"If sufficient progress has been made, the programme could be extended for a further 16 weeks or continued for as long as in necessary," says the guidance.
Social inclusion: pupil support identifies seven groups as being at high risk of exclusion: children looked after by local authorities, African-Caribbean boys, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, those from difficult home situations, those caring for sick or disabled relatives and pupils moving schools.
Truancy is picked out as an important indicator of disaffection and heads are strongly advised to adopt policies of same-day response to unauthorised absence. The report says the tactic has improved attendance by up to 10 per cent in some schools.
Fixed period exclusion is specifically ruled out in the document for breaches of school uniform policy, unless it is part of a sustained defiance.
Offences which take place after hours and away from the school, are also not be considered unless allowing the pupil to remain would be "seriously detrimental" to the education or welfare of others.
An interesting half-way house sanction suggested by the authors is the lunch-time exclusion: "Some children's behaviour can be particularly difficult at lunch-time. Where this is the case, it may be possible to arrange for the pupil to go home for lunch.
If this is not feasible the mechanism exists to exclude the pupil for the duration of the lunch-time, placing legal responsibility for the child back with the parent."
SCHOOL INCLUSION: PUPIL SUPPORT
* National target to reduce truancy and exclusions by one third by 2002 and a commitment to ensure that all pupils excluded from school for more than 15 days receive full-time and appropriate education.
Pupils at high-risk of exclusion:
* Children from families under stress. * Looked-after children. * Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. * African-Caribbean boys. * Children caring for relatives. * Children changing school. Handling signs of disaffection.
* Same-day response to unauthorised pupil absence. * Involve the wider community in tackling truancy. * Set up a hierachy of sanctions against disruptive behaviour. * Identify possible special educational needs. * Look at ways of providing a curriculum that engages the child. * Address drugs problems, bullying, racial and sexual harassment. Support for pupils who do not respond.
* Set up a pastoral support programme for those in danger of permanent exclusion or criminal activity.