Professor Sheila Riddell's warning to delegates attending the Enquire conference, reported in your issue of February 11, was well judged. She was quoted as saying that too many boys, looked-after children and children from deprived homes are being excluded from school.
In the case of children and young people who are "looked-after" by local authorities, there is every reason to be very concerned about high rates of exclusion from school.
Circular 298 states that only in exceptional circumstances should any pupil be excluded from school for reasons other than violent behaviour, persistent disobedience, use of illicit drugs and other very serious incidents, and that a child's looked-after status is irrelevant to any decision to exclude.
Reducing the days lost every year through exclusion from school is one of the Scottish Executive's social justice targets. Yet in 2002-3, while the exclusion rate for all school pupils in Scotland was 50 per 1,000, the rate for looked-after children was more than four times as much at 227 per thousand.
To be fair, some looked after children give schools a hard time. Despite the challenges, exclusions have been falling since 1999 for both the general school population and looked-after children. However, while overall exclusions decreased by 3 per cent between academic years 2001-2 and 2002-3, the number of exclusions of looked-after children and young people increased very substantially, from 154 per 1,000 looked-after children aged 5-15 to 227.
Until this year's figures are released, we won't know if last year's dramatic increase was simply a blip. However, there is at least anecdotal evidence supporting the view that, after a few years of efforts by education and social work departments to avoid excluding looked-after children, attitudes somehow changed.
There are different views about the causes. Some say they detect less pressure to avoid exclusions at all costs to avoid confrontations with teaching unions. Others point out that some of the additional resources temporarily available to new community schools, and which were used effectively to provide alternative means of support within school, have been lost.
Whatever the reason, a vulnerable group of children, known to have poor attainment and poor adjustment to adult life, risks being further disadvantaged as a result.
Department of Educational and Professional Studies
University of Strathclyde