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Reform to expose exclusion hotspots

In a bid to reduce juvenile crime, schools that exclude too many pupils may find themselves in the political limelight. Nicolas Barnard reports.

SCHOOLS that exclude too many pupils may have to answer not only to their local education authority but to the Home Office as well.

Under a major reorganisation of the youth justice system, the new overseeing Youth Justice Board will have powers to report to ministers on problem areas in the Government's battle to reduce youth crime.

Norman Warner, senior policy adviser to the Home Secretary and chair of the government task force on youth justice, said this meant that the board could highlight areas with high exclusion rates.

Speaking at a National Children's Bureau conference on care and custody, he said: "The board should be able to bring to the Government's attention where there are critical issues like exclusion which are leading in some parts of the country to problems with young offending and the youth justice system."

The Department for Education and Employment has already signalled its desire to cut back rising exclusion rates that have been blamed on competition between schools.

Exclusions and truancy were highlighted in the Government's first social exclusion unit report.

In a second assault on social exclusion - the reform of the youth justice system - health and education will also be expected to play key roles.

The system is under attack from all sides for the lack of care and education it provides for those in young offenders' institutions and local authority secure units. They are seen as isolated from other services such as probation and social services.

The Audit Commission last week said education should be a higher priority; two-thirds of young offenders have effectively left education either through truancy or exclusion.

And the chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, launched a scathing attack on the system in a report issued last November and repeated at this week's conference.

Mr Warner admitted the present system was "inefficient, incoherent, and in need of reform".

"Anything that does a better job than what is going on now has got to be good news," he said.

Local health and education authorities will sit on the new youth offending teams alongside probation, social services, police and others involved in the system.

They will provide continuity of supervision and care inside and on release, following a new regime - now being piloted - of detailed sentencing plans for all those who go into custody. The plans will identify their health, social, educational and vocational needs.

The Youth Justice Board will from October set standards and oversee the operation of the whole youth justice system.

The board may also take on a commissioning and purchasing role, particularly as private sector involvement is likely to increase.

Mr Warner is recommending that the controversial private secure training centres commissioned by the Conservatives for 10 to 12-year-olds should be expanded for all juveniles.

They could provide a more flexible regime with a greater emphasis on education and training and be a less harsh alternative to young offenders' institutions.

The only one is at Medway, run by Group 4, and has fewer than a dozen children.

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