Exclusion of pupils from schools may be largely ineffective and is not fulfilling the prime aim of reducing misbehaviour, according to psychologists who have been studying the problem in Glasgow.
As the issue of disruptive pupils is set to move centre-stage at next week's Conservative conference in Bournemouth, Glasgow has been monitoring the policy of "non-permanent exclusion" inherited from Strathclyde. There are no "informal exclusions" and no pupil can be suspended for more than 30 days.
Glasgow is planning a major conference in November at which headteachers will unveil their experiences, including one from an east end secondary who has compiled a "league table" showing which departments and teachers are most prone to suspending pupils.
Evidence about the ineffectiveness of exclusions has been drawn not just from Glasgow's experience but from a trawl of research literature. It was presented to last week's conference of educational psychologists (page two) by Fergal Doherty and Brendan Gerrard, two of the team carrying out the analysis.
The figures reveal that one in four of the 636 secondary pupils suspended for the full six-week period between 1992 and 1994 simply disappeared and did not re-enter the system. A move to a new school seemed a sufficient remedy for half that number. Sixty-nine primary pupils were excluded for 30 days. One in 10 was untraceable and half settled into an alternative school at the first attempt.
Mr Doherty admits, however, that the reliability of the figures is open to question and the team is recommending a model database. This will provide more accurate information and allow schools to determine whether exclusions are confined to particular departments, areas of the school and times of the day or week.
Glasgow has found no obvious connection between schools in deprived areas and higher exclusion rates. An analysis of the figures reveals that schools with the same number of clothing grants vary in exclusions by between 10 per cent and 50 per cent.
Mr Gerrard said the council's aim was "to squeeze exclusions out of the system", particularly the 25 per cent of secondary pupils whose whereabouts were unknown. The fact that half of those excluded appeared to settle in a new school showed that "a therapeutic move" might often be all that is required.
He was unable to judge, however, whether pupils genuinely benefited or simply failed to reappear in the statistics.