Specially appointed principal teachers of guidance, acting as behaviour managers, have cut the number of exclusions in the three East Renfrewshire secondaries with the most difficulties.
Barrhead High, St Luke's High, Barrhead, and Woodfarm High, Thornliebank,all serving disadvantaged areas, have shown in the first year of a Scottish Office-funded project that most offending behaviour can be dealt with in school.
Pupils will now be excluded only for serious breaches of the rules. Shorter exclusions are more common and the overall number has been reduced.At Woodfarm, 120 pupils were excluded in 1995-96, against 72 in 1997-98.
Teachers at the three schools are said to be more aware that behaviour is a concern, and there are fewer exclusions for classroom behaviour. In contrast, there is increasing use of exclusion from a subject or department to avoid total exclusion from the timetable.
A significant number of young people have been supported and their repeated or long-term exclusions avoided. The council attributes the success to the principal teachers who have helped develop positive staff attitudes, initiated staff training on behaviour management and raised awareness about alternatives to exclusion.
There is less expectation that network teachers and psychologists have to be brought in to deal with problems. Parents are more involved and principal teachers give pre-exclusion warnings.
Jeannie Mackenzie, principal teacher of guidance at Woodfarm, said teacher isolation in difficult classes often caused acute stress. She has provided extra class support and set up a mutual support forum. Twelve teachers gave up lunch times for training.
Ms Mackenzie said 30 pupils received support for social and emotional difficulties over a three-month period in the spring. They ranged from a school phobic to pupils who displayed extremely challenging behaviour in and out of the classroom.
"Interventions have included target-setting, classroom support, counselling, escorting pupils to class, supervision during breaks and departmental exclusions. Two new support structures used have been self-reporting cards and time-out cards.
"The self-reporting cards have been used successfully to foster a sense of ownership and control for pupils with very low self-esteem. The time-out cards provide school phobics with an acceptable way of leaving class should the need arise," Ms Mackenzie states.
East Renfrewshire says it may have to offer a slimmed down curriculum for many children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Schools are also raising serious concerns about mental health problems. A time-out base, or sanctuary, may be needed in many schools, the council says.