Schools told not to cheat on exclusion

The Government is to stamp out misleading information about the number of pupils excluded from school and force councils and headteachers to record all informal exclusions. Sending pupils home for a day or two to cool off will have to be noted officially. Authorities have welcomed clear guidance.

An Pounds 80,000 research project into exclusions, commissioned by the Scottish Office and carried out by Moray House Institute, found "a wide diversity of practice across the country and from school to school" and widespread evidence of "sending home" children who breached school rules. They were not recorded in official statistics and the practice is said to be illegal. Parents have no right of appeal.

Professor Pamela Munn, who led the research, said unrecorded "sending home" takes place even where expressly forbidden by local authorities, which take widely differing views about what count as legal exclusions. The research team also found headteachers who did not know what their council's policy was.

One insider described discrepancies in practice as "unbelievable".

The Scottish Office circular on exclusions follows a string of announcements and conferences on alternatives to exclusions, promoting positive behaviour and improved ethos. Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, announced last month that 18 councils were to share Pounds 3 million after submitting projects to prevent exclusions. Controversially, Aberdeen and Edinburgh did not receive any pilot funding.

Professor Munn said the research team found different interpretations about information that should be recorded. "In the case of the figures for informal exclusions, there is quite an under-representation. Sending home is often done for very good reasons and allows everyone to cool off but it is typically not recorded in a pupil record," she stated. The study was carried out in the final years of the regional councils.

National guidelines were welcomed by Professor Munn as a means of ensuring informal exclusions are registered. "It is not a competition on exclusions but there is a need to provide good, reliable information we can share in order to develop practice," she said.

Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross, who chaired an advisory committee, accepted the need for tighter figures and better practice in schools and authorities. "The idea of national guidelines is a good idea but we would want to avoid national prescription," Mr McKay said.

In a ministerial statement, Mr Wilson said schools should become "areas of zero tolerance for violent and disruptive behaviour", although exclusions should be a "last resort".

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