To exclude or not exclude, that is the argument
Children's charities and secondary teachers appeared set on a collision course last week after one group called for fewer children to be excluded from Scottish schools and the other demanded permanent bans for violent pupils, highlighting looked-after children as a particular problem.
Falling school exclusion rates were a significant success story for Scottish education, although there was scope for more progress to be made, was the rallying cry from Jackie Brock, the new head of Children in Scotland, hosting her first annual conference in Dunfermline last week.
Three days later, however, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association was making headlines with a call for violent pupils to be removed from mainstream education.
The current policy of excluding the most troublesome pupils only to move them to another school was not working, said the union's acting general secretary, Alan McKenzie. They should be taken out of mainstream education altogether and taught at a special education unit, he argued.
"I'm not talking here about kids with identified additional support needs but pupils who are indulging in acts of violence," he told TESS. "A particular problem is looked-after and accommodated children who seem impossible to exclude."
Ms Brock's view, however, was that the year-on-year decline in Scottish school exclusions was "a significant success story". "Otherwise they would be cast out and where on earth would they go?" she said.
Ms Brock called for more progress to be made, saying it was "unacceptable" that children with an additional support need or those who came from the most deprived areas of Scotland were four times more likely to be excluded. Scotland had much to celebrate but could still do better, was her message.
Sir Peter Housden, permanent secretary to the Scottish government and the country's top civil servant, meanwhile, advised delegates not to worry if they felt they had been wrestling with the same issues for years. In a changing society, this was the labour that was never done, he said.
Evidence showed you only had to do seven things to change the world, he continued. You needed a vision of what you were trying to achieve; a clear picture of where you have been and where you need to be; a set of actions showing how to make that journey; a clear framework for improvement to deliver and measure those changes; a strategy to help the workforce make those changes; an understanding of how change may differ across the area in which you are working; and a commitment to keep going when things get tough.
FACTS AND FIGURES
In 2002-03, 32,776 pupils were excluded from Scottish schools, dropping to 26,844 in 2010-11 - a decrease of 18 per cent.
Most exclusions were temporary, with just 60 pupils permanently excluded from schools in 2010-11.
The overall exclusion rate for looked-after children is eight times higher than for all schoolchildren.