JAILED pupils should be kept on the school roll so they can continue with their education straight after their release, a Home Office advisory body has urged.
Almost 1,400 pupils aged 16 and under were serving custodial sentence at the start of last month. Many have to wait months to return to mainstream schooling after being released.
But now, the Youth Justice Board is pressing the Department for Education and Skills to withdraw instructions to heads last year to drop jailed students from the roll.
Lord Warner, chairman of the board, which advises Home Secretary David Blunkett, wants the DfES to help young offenders gain better access to mainstream education rather than studying in special units. "We don't want to create education and training ghettos for young offenders. That would be a confession of failure," he said.
Jennifer Martinez, head of education for Lancashire's youth offending teams, said the DfES guidance undermined attempts to raise the proportion of young offenders in full-time education. "There are young people coming out of custody with no school place, who have to wait months to get back to mainstream classes," she said.
However, heads are concerned about the effects on league table performance.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said heads did not want jailed pupils on rolls because it could damage exam results and attendance records. Time a pupil spends in a secure institution is counted as an authorised absence.
The justice board and Connexions agency, which provides teenagers with advice and support, have set a target of seeing 80 per cent of young offenders in suitable full-time education, training or employment this year, and 90 per cent by May 2004. Estimates from the board suggest the figure is currently around 52 per cent.
Education minister Ivan Lewis said he backed attempts to meet the targets, but did not think guidance telling heads to remove young prisioners from rolls should change. He said there were alternatives to offenders returning to their schools, such as pupil-referral units, and the nature of their crimes sometimes made going back inappropriate.