The sharp rise in punishments for assaulting staff and pupils suggests a worrying trend in Wales. The Assembly government may argue that the huge jump in temporary exclusions reflects the impact of new guidance urging schools to avoid using permanent exclusion at all costs. But the fact that permanent exclusions have also leapt upwards suggests there is a more serious problem. Geraint Davies, secretary of classroom union NASUWT Cymru, voiced the concern of teachers that "too many of our schools have become battlefields".
Is this a societal issue - the jump in the number of girls permanently excluded being another cause for concern - or a problem that schools and the education system can address? Some answers may be found in the urban valleys of south Wales. In Rhondda Cynon Taf the number of permanent exclusions from maintained secondary schools has been near zero for five years, compared with an average of more than 45 pupils per year for neighbouring Caerphilly in the same period. Caerphilly in fact has the joint-highest permanent exclusion rate in Wales (3.9 per 1,000 pupils).
Two years ago (TES Cymru, June 25, 2004) we reported that RCT had cut exclusions with a 50-strong behaviour support team offering one-to-one sessions in schools, alternative provision at local colleges or pupil referral centres, home tuition and extended work placements, and "managed moves" to other schools.
The key was making sure there were still options for pupils when schools ran out of their own solutions and that stigma was not attached to pupils who left, so they could be moved on to a more appropriate curriculum for their needs. But the lessons of the authority's success appear not to have been heeded nationally. In a report about to be published by the National Foundation for Educational Research, we will be told that not enough money is being put into preventive initiatives to turn around bad behaviour in Wales.
Both our teachers and our pupils deserve better.