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Rising tide of fear cannot be ignored

Your editorial headed "Exclusion time-bomb" (TES, July 14), like so much other comment about this acute problem, omits the words "violence" and "intimidation". There are thousands of schools in Britain which are confident enough both of their relationship with their local communities and of their financial management to have maintained over the past few years consistent criteria for exclusions.

They are permanently excluding more pupils now, not because they are worried about league tables or budget cuts, but because the incidence of unacceptable violence and intimidation, which means fear and danger for other pupils and staff, is slowly but surely rising. Such patterns of behaviour are too ingrained by adolescence for your recommended "quick return to mainstream schooling after exclusion" to be other than wishful thinking if secondary schools are to remain for the great majority of pupils safe centres of learning.

If we are realistic, we can only expect the problem to worsen in the short and medium term. More permanent exclusions are another measure of greater youth delinquency which will not be reduced overnight.

Whatever may be its main causes - family breakdown, unemploymentcomparative poverty, an overly autonomous youth culture, excessive media violence and so on - all are much wider in their compass than education, and require political and social action both nationally and locally.

What we need from the Department for Education and Employment and from local education authorities, working with the social services, are policies which accept that, in the immediate future, there will be more violent pupils permanently excluded from mainstream schools and which provide for their education and protect the general public more effectively than home tuition. To argue that a significant reduction in permanent exclusions could be achieved by mainstream schools "coping better" forgets that violent teenagers can put other pupils and staff into hospital.

MARTIN ROBERTS

Headteacher

The Cherwell School

Oxford

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