Far from being a cheap way to get rid of troublesome pupils, the true cost of exclusion from school is well over #163;24 million a year, according to a study by the Commission for Racial Equality. It says exclusion represents a far more expensive solution to classroom disruption, both in terms of cash and long-term social damage, than controlling such pupils within ordinary schools.
The trend towards exclusion, says Herman Ousely, the CRE chairman, is contributing to the formation of an unemployable, alienated underclass. The research also found that black pupils were between three and six times more likely to be excluded.
The investigation by Dr Carl Parsons, author of several research projects on exclusion, found that exclusions in 1994-95 cost the education system #163;14m, the police and courts #163;7m and social services #163;3m.
These estimates, based on extrapolations from a survey of six local authorities, are likely to be "very conservative", said Dr Parsons. Data supplied by some police areas, says the report, reveal that up to two-thirds of excluded pupils are known to the police and one-third ends up in court. One youngster cost police and social services #163;61,000.
Dr Parsons recently published research that put the number of exclusions at 13,400 and rising, compared with the Government's estimate of 11,000.
The CRE study found that while alternative education for excluded pupils costs twice as much as mainstream education, the excluded pupil receives under 10 per cent of full-time education on average. This is partly a result of the delay in setting up alternative schooling for the excluded, and partly because provision is very often part-time.
"The costs of exclusion are considerable for what is a vastly inferior, inadequate educational experience for the child," says the study.
The average cost for a secondary-school place over the year is #163;2,500, while for each permanently excluded pupil it is #163;4,300. The total costs, including police and social services expenses, incurred by individual pupils varied wildly from #163;7,000 to #163;15,000.
The report adds to evidence from previous surveys which showed that once excluded, only 15 per cent of excludees ever return to mainstream education and that excluded pupils are three times more likely to commit offences.
Mr Ouseley called on the Education Department, the Audit Commission and LEAs to recognise that while shunting the cost around various agencies might appear to save money in individual schools, the total cost was much greater.
The CRE hopes to fight two of the proposals in the Education Bill that would allow schools to exclude pupils for up to 45 days a year and make it more difficult for appeals panels to overturn exclusions.
Dr Parsons said that while some schools were "too trigger happy", it was not enough for the Government to ask why the bad schools couldn't be like the good schools over behaviour. "The Government has arranged things so that there will be bad and good schools," he said.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, reacted angrily to the report. "#163;24 million is cheap at the price: the cost of not excluding these children is incalculable."
He dismissed the idea that exclusion set pupils on a path of crime, "85 per cent of youngsters excluded from school are already in trouble with the police. Why should people bend over backwards to accommodate bad behaviour? The focus should be on the family, which is where all these problems start."