Exclusion takes a new direction

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Targets for cutting exclusions placed almost intolerable pressures on schools and they have rightly been removed. Decisions now rest with headteachers and it is their call over what happens to pupils who transgress. The intention of targets was fair enough. Education matters for all young people, even those who cause the most difficulties, and anyone without basic skills will struggle in adult society.

Climates change and in the past few years schools have accepted that they must cater for all, regardless of ability and attitude. But strains remain in classes and teachers under pressure to produce hard results find much pupil behaviour challenging. Many want the troublemakers out, as union conferences testify.

Ministers are responding in a balanced way. They have loosened the curriculum reins and ploughed in funds to pay for alternative provision. As the New Directions evidence (pages one and six) shows, there is no reason to contain uncooperative and demotivated 15-year-olds within schools.

Legislation and political imperative on inclusion suggest only that they receive an appropriate education. That does not necessarily stipulate in school, although ministers have recently capped the expansion into colleges.

Fortunately local authorities and schools now have more scope to devise alternatives, either in school or out. It has always been true that some young people were ill-equipped to cope with the regimentation of school and a curriculum ill-suited to their interests. A largely academic fare, however watered down, is not for all. We have still to acknowledge that more widely.

Nationally, schools are being encouraged to offer more vocational courses and to promote enterprise and life skills. We are moving on from the narrow focus on Higher passes that ranks schools in the public mind. The outcomes from the Paisley initiative, dubbed a "late intervention project", are impressive. Young people who were classed as failures are being included in a different forum and achieving success, surprising themselves and, no doubt, their original teachers. That is a long way from exclusion targets.

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