Exclusions are the 'barometer' of problems

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Dundee has retained its title as the exclusions capital of Scotland, writes Neil Munro. The annual figures for last year revealed that the city's schools had 126 exclusions per 1,000 pupils, even more than in Glasgow with 110 and in contrast to Orkney which had the smallest number at 10; the Scottish average was 64.

The headline figure of 44,794 exclusions in total represented a 4 per cent increase on the previous year and was the fourth consecutive rise. But, since pupils can be suspended more than once, the actual number involved was 22,800, which was just 3 per cent of primary, secondary and special school pupils.

The overall figures disguise a host of factors, such as school and education authority policies, the reliability of the data, the huge variations across the country and the impact of pockets of difficult pupils.

One example of the unexpected is Perth and Kinross, which has more exclusions in its primary schools than Glasgow - 29 per 1,000 pupils compared to 21; and South Lanarkshire primary pupils appear to be as well-behaved as those in Orkney, both with seven exclusions per 1,000 pupils.

Offences which merited exclusions were mostly to do with disobedience, including verbal abuse of staff - 58 per cent. Incidents involving acts or threats of physical aggression represented 32 per cent of exclusions.

The ingredients making up exclusions reflect a familiar trend. Pupils registered for free school meals, who have special needs and who are in local authority care all had higher exclusion rates than others - 13 times more if they had all three factors.

The peak year for exclusions was S3 - 290 per 1,000 pupils for boys and 116 for girls. The peak time of the session was the first week of March last year.

Maureen Watt, the Schools Minister, acknowledged that the figures must be made more "comprehensive and reliable", and she would be holding consultations with local authorities on this.

But Kirsty Devaney, president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said there was now a more accurate picture of pupil indiscipline, following the removal of "politically-motivated targets" to reduce exclusions year-on-year.

Tom McGhee, director of Spark of Genius, which provides education for pupils excluded from school, said: "The issue with exclusions is often the barometer of problems. If it becomes a permanent exclusion, these children start down the slippery slope."

Geraldine Gammell, director of the Prince's Trust Scotland, said greater investment in early intervention and alternative learning programmes were part of the answer.

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