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Heads rally to offer pupils second chance

Two councils and their schools are claiming success in helping excluded children back to learning. Allen Edwards reports.

The problem of excluded pupils ending up in sink schools is being tackled by a pioneering project in Warwickshire.

A group of local headteachers - including those from grant-maintained schools - is working with the local authority to find suitable places for excluded children. The aim is to try to prevent them ending up in unpopular schools which have tend to have vacancies.

The North Warwickshire Hard To Place Panel has worked through a backlog of cases and found places at local schools or a further education college. Excluded children who are still without a place are offered other options, such as an assessment at a pupil referral unit.

The panel relies on the goodwill of the 13 secondary schools in the north of the county. The schools agree to be bound by the panel's decision over where to send the children.

The number of children permanently excluded from local authority schools in northern Warwickshire has continued to rise from 46 in 1995-6 to 55 in 1996-7. But the council says 42 of the 45 placements made by the panel for children excluded last year have been successful.

When the panel was formed in September 1996, one child had been out of school for six months. Now there are only six cases in the queue. The council says this shows how much waiting times have been cut.

Heads and council officials believe their co-operative approach has been built on good relations that exists between GM schools and those that stayed under council control. Headteachers, including some GM schools, attend the panel meetings as well as representatives from social services.

The school which excluded the child is not present at the meeting to place them. Parents and children do attend, encouraging them to feel that the meeting is impartial.

Jane Wilson, head of GM Ash Green School in Exhall, near Coventry, said the scheme developed from earlier meetings of all the heads in northern Warwickshire.

None of the schools wanted to have children who had been excluded hanging around outside, harassing pupils. She said she had been concerned about security.

The heads also wanted to offer excluded children a second chance.

Mrs Wilson said: "There is complete trust among the schools taking part. Trust is vital. If the panel decides that I have to take a child, that is fine. I will be told about their history and will try to make sure the problems do not happen again."

Ash Green has successfully integrated three excluded children so far. "It is a very valuable scheme. We have not had the problems we have had before," said Mrs Wilson.

"I hope it will also reduce the risk of these excluded children getting drawn into crime" Mrs Wilson wants the panel to encourage preventative work so that children with behavioural problems are tackled before exclusion becomes necessary.

Eric Wood, Warwickshire's education officer, said: "This panel takes collective responsibility to tackle a problem affecting all the schools.

"In time the panel's work will improve behaviour in general and lead to fewer exclusions."

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