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Labour reaches out to the excluded

The Government says it will find more money to help schools cope with their disaffected children. Biddy Passmore reports.

The scandal of a growing army of excluded pupils roaming the streets should come to an end if the Government succeeds in meeting the recommendations of the first report from its Social Exclusion Unit.

By 2002, the aim is that all pupils excluded from school for more than three weeks will receive "alternative full-time and appropriate education". Many excluded pupils - a disproportionate number of them black, with special needs, or in care - receive as little as three or four hours' tuition a week. Many turn to crime.

The Government intends to find money in its comprehensive spending review to increase support for this group, whether in pupil-referral units or schools, or in a mixture of further education college and work placements.

Schools receiving excluded pupils might be given "dowries". And the Government says local authorities should look at options provided by the voluntary sector, which could be more effective and cheaper.

"If a child is excluded at the moment, they drift into a sort of never-never land getting very little education at all. That is not acceptable," said Stephen Byers, schools standards minister, and head of a truancy and exclusion task force.

Another key government aim is to cut by one-third the number of pupils being permanently excluded - put at 13,500 last year, up more than 10,000 since 1990.

This first report from the Prime Minister's Social Exclusion Unit shows wide variations in exclusion rates. One-quarter of secondary schools is responsible for two-thirds of permanent exclusions, and one-quarter does not exclude at all. "Some schools are using it where others cope," Mr Byers said.

Last year, the west London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham excluded four times as many pupils as Newham, in east London, and six times as many as Oxfordshire.

The Government wants schools to take more preventative action and not to exclude children for trivial reasons such as a seven-year-old allegedly expelled for sticking out her tongue or pupils wearing nose-studs. It will amend the schools Bill going through Parliament to give guidance on exclusions statutory force, create new grounds for appeals and give authorities the right to be heard at the governors' meeting.

It also wants to ensure that schools cannot use exclusion as a device to boost their performance in league tables, of which there is anecdotal evidence.

The Government will publish data on schools' and authorities' performance on exclusions, broken down by ethnic group. There will also be special inspections of 10 schools a year with disproportionately high levels of exclusion or truancy.

Key aims

* number of permanent exclusions and time lost to truancy to be cut by one-third by 2002

* national targets to be broken down into local authority targets, highest for the worst performers

* all excluded pupils to receive full-time education by 2002

* police to have power to pick up truants during anti-truancy drives

* 50 per cent of children in care to have a qualification by 2001, and 75 per cent by 2003

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