Exclusions are up, so the medicine must be working
The reason Peter Peacock is claiming success is that the first important decision he took as minister was to remove the targets schools had to meet to "artificially reduce exclusions".
"Whereas before headteachers were feeling under pressure to keep some pupils in school, they are now using the new freedom I have given them to ensure less disruption for the majority of pupils and to take a zero tolerance approach to violent behaviour," Mr Peacock commented.
The result is that there were 38,919 cases of exclusion from council schools in 2003-04, higher than in 1999-2000 and compared with 36,496 in 2002-03.
As some pupils are excluded more than once, the actual number of youngsters involved is 21,000, about 3 per cent of the pupil population.
Mr Peacock took comfort from the fact that the number of permanent exclusions fell significantly, although temporary exclusions rose. Since a temporary exclusion implies that the pupil will return to school (as opposed to being permanently removed from the register), this suggested that short-term banning was an effective sanction.
He said this was demonstrated by the fact that 80 per cent of excluded pupils are excluded only once or twice.
Despite persistent union criticism that schools do not have enough sanctions and that many pupils "cock a snook" at the system, Mr Peacock said the Executive's policy is that pupils are only allowed back into school "when they have faced up to their actions and when the terms of their return are acceptable to everyone".
Mr Peacock reeled off a raft of measures the Executive has taken to deal with behavioural problems, such as more support staff, home-school link workers, pupil support units and restorative practices.
Funding includes pound;10 million a year for implementing the discipline task group's report and pound;11 million a year for alternatives to exclusion. The most recent announcement was for pound;34.9 million over three years to recruit up to 1,000 extra support staff to help schools deal with "the most challenging pupils".
While the overall exclusion rate is 53 cases for every 1,000 pupils in primary, secondary and special schools, the local authority breakdown shows that deprivation is a key factor. The rate is six per 1,000 in the Western Isles, but 97 per 1,000 in Dundee.
Similarly, in secondary schools the average of 105 per 1,000 pupils ranges from 12 per 1,000 in the Western Isles to 202 in Glasgow.