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Slough aims for zero intolerance

Education minister believes pupil-referral tag may send out the wrong message as schools meet exclusion targets

SLOUGH aims to be the first council in the country not to exclude a single child in the school year which starts in September.

In partnership with INaura - the national voluntary organisation dedicated to "total inclusion" - it hopes to avoid all permanent exclusions by transferring pupils before problems come to a head.

Already the number of permanently exlcuded children in the town is very low. In 19992000 there were 10 and, after a sharp, upward blip last year to 32 caused by a struggling secondary, the figure is set fair to be 10 or fewer in the current year. It was one of eight authorities with a total of 10 or fewer in 19992000.

The pressure from Government to reduce permanent exclusions nationally is off because councils and schools managed to hit ministers' target of cutting the total by a third two years early.

In England the figure fell from 12,700 in 199697 to 8,300 in 19992000. Enquiries by The TES last October suggested the number of permanent exclusions was continuing to fall.

Since then, new draft guidance on exclusions has been issued (the consultation period ends next month) which could see the total rise again. It says single offences of bullying, carrying weapons or supplying drugs could justify permanent exclusion - and appeal panels would not be expected to reinstate them.

Chris Spencer, Slough's assistant chief education officer, believes the new guidance should make no difference in the town where there is "a huge reluctance on behalf of schools to exclude".

Managed transfer is Slough's alternative to exclusion. "If a school feels a child is poorly placed we work together to manage transition rather than to exclude. This stops knee-jerk reactions to a single incident," said Mr Spencer.

But the council is not relying solely on co-operation. It has set up a "rapid response team" to support schools dealing with difficult youngsters.

This means that the longest a school has to wait for a case conference is four days, a crucial factor which makes heads far more likely to opt for a short-term exclusion rather than just showing pupils the door.

The council provides support and advice to in-school centres to help heads retain pupils, has two pupil-referral units with good links to mainstream schools and runs alternative work-based training for older pupils at a factory site.

Two Slough schools - one primary and one secondary - are piloting schemes to deal with problem pupils, such as help to reduce bullying and workshops to help families. All schools will benefit from next year.

Adam Abdelnoor, chief executive of INaura, hopes that two more authorities - one inner London borough and one in the West Country - will join Slough in showing that total inclusion can work everywhere.

"We are almost alone in Europe in excluding pupils as we do," said Carl Parsons of Canterbury Christ Church University College, who has conducted extensive research on the subject.

"If you go to France, for instance, it takes about half an hour to explain what you mean by exclusion. They and other European countries think education is so important you wouldn't deprive a child of it."

Bob Lindsay, a Canadian who has been working on total inclusion in British Columbia, spent almost a week in Slough looking at its plans to counter exclusion (See story "Canadian 'total inclusion' zone" below.)

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