Exclude for just 3 days

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Think-tank's study says expelling pupils doesn't work and only exacerbates behaviour problems. Jon Slater reports

Badly-behaved pupils should only be excluded from schools for a maximum of three days, the Government's favourite think-tank will say in a report in the autumn.

The study, by the Institute for Public Policy Research, will call for limits on fixed-term exclusions and highlight the vast number of illegal exclusions that have become a "day-to-day reality" in many schools.

The report says longer exclusions in which pupils can be expelled for up to 45 days do not solve behaviour problems and means children find it harder to fit in when they return. If they are not at school, the report says, they are often free to get involved in criminal or anti-social activities.

The report argues for a move towards a system in which very few pupils are excluded, but says the Government must make sure the necessary support is in place for schools.

Sir Alan Steer, head of Seven Kings high school in Ilford, Essex, and chair of the Government's expert group on behaviour, which met for the first time this week, said the taskforce would consider the IPPR's proposals.

He said his particular interest was in "how we can make lessons more relevant".

But teachers' leaders believe the proposal is unworkable. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the second-largest teachers' union, said aiming for zero exclusions "has been tried, tested and shown to have failed".

She said limits on fixed-term exclusions would hamper schools' efforts to deal with difficult pupils and would force them to expel more. She said:

"It is naive to think you can eliminate exclusions. To keep in school a child who has pulled a knife on a teacher or assaulted staff or pupils undermines discipline and teachers' authority."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he would vigorously oppose any move to limit headteachers' freedom, saying that schools need time to hold talks with parents of suspended pupils.

"Three days is hardly worth the paper it's written on," he said.

Government figures published last year suggest that there are about 80,000 fixed-term exclusions each term, although this is thought to be an underestimate. The average period of pupil exclusion was 3.5 days. Official figures, due after The TES went to press, were expected to show a small fall in exclusions because of the use of on-site units.

The draft report says ministers must be brave enough to examine the negative effect of the standards agenda on behaviour in schools. Parental choice, competition and a rigid national curriculum have all damaged pupil behaviour, it argues.

Sir Alan's group is investigating the possible introduction of a national code for behaviour and will look at the issue of exclusions. It will report in October.

The draft IPPR report seen by The TES said pupils who are excluded temporarily often benefit from increased kudos with their classmates and view the time as a holiday. This can reduce the impact of threatening pupils with permanent exclusion.

Schools that send pupils home for minor misdemeanours - such as not wearing the correct uniform - are breaking the law unless they go through formal procedures.

Research carried out in 10 schools found that illegal exclusions were "a day-to-day reality of school life where they were seen as necessary for managing relations within the school and avoiding taking on unmanageable levels of paperwork".

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

news 13, leader 22

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