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Opt-out exclusion rate upsets authority

A local authority which has witnessed a doubling in permanent exclusions over the past year said it has been left to deal with the problem because more than three-quarters of the children are excluded from grant-maintained schools.

Of the exclusions in Essex, 86 per cent are at secondary level, and 70 per cent of pupils attend a GM secondary school. Nigel Hunt, head of the authority's pupil, student and parent services, said: "We are now finding it extremely difficult to find alternative schooling as a growing number of schools are refusing to admit these children.

"This causes inevitable delays, so more and more are having to be taught at home for long periods. This is not only expensive but it makes it more difficult for the pupil to settle down again when a place is eventually secured."

The county council has no power to intervene in a GM school's decision to exclude a pupil, nor can it direct the school to take a pupil who has been excluded from elsewhere. The report, to be heard by the council's Quality Insurance and Inspections sub-committee on Monday, shows that permanent exclusions have risen from 110 (199293) to 221 (199394). The majority of all exclusions were made by just 25 of the 103 secondary schools.

While the rise reflects the national trend, Mike Bennett, a council spokesman, said that with the majority of schools outside its jurisdiction, some children were spending up to a year at home until a school could be found to take them. It also made it difficult for the authority to collect comprehensive data on exclusions and ensure that procedures were properly followed.

The reasons for exclusion were: 67 per cent for disruptive behaviour; 10 per cent for bullying; 10 per cent for drugs and alcohol offences; and 8 per cent for physical or verbal assaults on teachers. The number of exclusions in primary schools rose from 10 to 27 in the same period.

The report by Michael Sharp, county education officer, said the majority of schools with a high exclusion rate were not admitting a similar number of pupils excluded from elsewhere and this was causing tension between schools.

He added: "The LEA has encountered a number of difficulties in relation to specific cases in GM schools which gives rise to concerns about the appropriateness of procedures in some GM schools. The LEA has raised these concerns with the Department for Education."

Mr Sharp said LEA officers had met grant-maintained heads to explore a county-wide approach to exclusions and admissions.

* A bitter dispute is developing as 550-pupil St Kentigern's RC primary school attempts to become the first in Labour-controlled Manchester to opt out of LEA control. Claims that anti opt-out campaigners have been harassed with abusive phone calls, and that excrement has been daubed on the house of one opt-out opponent, have been referred to police.

But Tim Driscoll, head of the school in Fallowfield since it opened in 1969, condemns such claims as an attempt to divert attention from the substantive issue. The opt-out move has the overwhelming support of parents, he says.

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