Exclusions up by 54 per cent

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
The number of permanent exclusions from schools has increased by fewer than 100 -despite the new discretion given to headteachers to get rid of pupils where they thought it appropriate.

The annual figures on exclusions, published by the Scottish Executive on Tuesday, show there were 271 cases of pupils removed from the school register in 2004-05, compared with 176 the previous year. Last year's cases were accounted for by just 10 education authorities out of 32.

Translating the increase into a percentage dramatises it, representing a 54 per cent rise.

Permanent exclusions still represent less than 1 per cent of all the 41,974 exclusions recorded last year, an 8 per cent increase overall. The number of actual pupils, however, is 22,000, which is just 3 per cent of the school population.

Although the incidence of permanent exclusions remains relatively tiny, Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, nonetheless welcomed it as evidence that "headteachers and councils are using the powers at their disposal to crack down on troublemakers by removing them from their classes."

In 2003, the Scottish Executive removed the target previously imposed on schools of reducing the number of excluded pupils, and the Minister is now making a virtue of the fact.

"I have repeatedly made it clear to headteachers that I would not be criticising them or looking over their shoulders if they exclude rowdy pupils to protect the interests of teachers and the vast majority of pupils," Mr Peacock said.

But he now has a new concern that "although exclusion is sometimes necessary, we cannot let young people see it as the easy option either".

The Executive is therefore now expecting authorities to involve troublemakers in facing up to the consequences of their actions and in taking responsibility for them, through schemes such as restorative justice. The extra pound;35 million announced last year for school support staff is intended to back such initiatives.

The figures show that authorities deal with their own hard cases. The vast majority of those removed from a school's register are sent to other schools within the authority - 162 of the 271 cases.

Of more concern to the minister will be the fact that no educational provision at all was made in neither 58 cases of permanent exclusion nor 37,151 instances of temporary exclusion.

"Getting children back into learning, using a range of provision including other schools, needs to become a higher priority at local level," Mr Peacock said.

The figures continue to point to the clear link between disadvantage and exclusion: the rates are highest for pupils on free meals, who are in care or who have a record of needs.

Since 1998, the total number of exclusions has risen from just under 35,000 to the latest figures of almost 42,000.

The Conservatives pointed out that headteachers have the power to exclude pupils only temporarily, not permanently.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the party's education spokesman, underlined the "shocking figures" showing 625 exclusions for substance misuse, 272 for alcohol abuse, over 200 for fire-raising, 300 for physical assault and almost 50 for indecent exposure or threats of sexual violence.

"Temporary exclusion does not necessarily deter the child concerned or others," Lord James added.

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