Ministers under fire for failure to tackle disruptive behaviour. Jon Slater reports
Almost 10 per cent of 13 and 14-year-old boys were suspended last year because of poor behaviour, official figures show.
More than 200,000 pupils of all ages were given a total of 344,000 fixed-term exclusions, according to the first comprehensive set of figures on temporary exclusions published by the Department for Education and Skills.
The figures also revealed that the number of pupils permanently excluded has risen sharply to its highest level for five years.
There were 9,880 permanent exclusions in 2003-4 - a 6 per cent increase on the previous year, despite increased use of in-school units for disruptive pupils.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith said: "We want a zero-tolerance approach to disruptive behaviour in all our schools - on everything from backchat to bullying or violence. Schools must have clear and consistent boundaries for what is acceptable behaviour."
Heads said the figures showed that schools were using all the means at their disposal to improve discipline.
But opposition politicians said the rise was the result of the Government's failure to improve behaviour.
Edward Davey, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "Calls for zero tolerance address only one side of the equation. It's time the Government wasn't just tough on indiscipline. but tough on the causes of indiscipline."
In 2000, ministers abandoned a target to reduce the number of permanent exclusions by a third after complaints by heads and teachers that it undermined discipline in schools.
As The TES revealed last week, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research due to be published in September will call for the length of temporary exclusions to be cut from the 45-day maximum to just three days.
The proposal will be examined by a government behaviour task-force led by Sir Alan Steer, head of Seven Kings school in Redbridge, east London.
Latest figures show that the average length of fixed-term exclusions was 3.8 days. Almost 30,000 lasted two weeks or more.
Boys were four times more likely to be permanently excluded than girls, and three times as likely to be suspended.
Black children were twice as likely to be expelled as their white classmates, and more than four-fifths of all exclusions occurred in secondary schools.
The rise in permanent exclusions was matched by a similar increase in the number of appeals against heads' decisions. Of 1,100 appeals lodged by parents, one in five was found in their favour. But the proportion of these that resulted in the school being ordered to reinstate the pupil fell to 57 per cent -down from 71 per cent a year earlier.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
"Schools will not tolerate the deteriorating behaviour of a small number of young people.
"They will act to protect the right to an education of all other children and the right of the teachers to teach."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"Although the number of in-school units for badly behaved pupils has risen, it remains essential for heads to have the sanction of exclusion for the most serious cases."