Pupils need to have a bigger say in the procedures used to exclude them from school, a new report argues. The study, from Save the Children, found that the rights of children are not being sufficiently safeguarded.
Instead of taking punitive measures, schools should devise better behaviour management procedures and exhaust all other options before expelling youngsters, it says.
A majority of the 10,000 or so pupils excluded from schools every year have some form of special needs. According to Audit Commission figures for 2002, 87 per cent of exclusions in primary schools and 60 per cent in secondaries concern pupils with special needs.
The Save the Children study of 40 children and young people aged 11 to 16 - 22 boys and 18 girls - said that children at risk of exclusion should attend all meetings about them, to allow them to have their say. They should also be given access to an independent advocate who can advise them of their rights.
And governors sitting on exclusion panels should receive training in child participation to ensure effective communication.
The report says young people often dispute the fairness of exclusions, and regret what has happened to them.
"Exclusion was seen as a bad thing because it meant missing out on education and later life chances," the report reads.
However, pupils' involvement in their fate varies. Most are confused about the process, and what it involves. They also feel they have little or no influence or control over any decisions.
"There was anger and frustration amongst some young people at not having been asked to give their side of the story in exclusion meetings," the report says.
"They suffered a sense not only of disempowerment, but also the feeling that justice had not been done."
The young people interviewed say they wanted to be treated equally in terms of the attention and consideration given to their viewpoint, irrespective of their behaviour history.
The report concludes: "If children's rights are to be realised, then exclusions need to be examined within the broader context of behavioural management within schools.
"Only by involving children and young people as social actors in this wider issue will their rights be ensured and the drift towards a more adversarial, and potentially even more damaging, process be halted."
Carol Nevison, of Save the Children, said: "Young people do generally want to get an education... (the existing system) often leads to anger, bitterness and frustration towards their schools and teachers and has a negative effect on their self-esteem and confidence."
For more information go to: www.savethechildren.org.uk.
Save the Children and the Advisory Centre for Education have published a booklet for excluded children. Copies are available from ACE, 1C Aberdeen Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2DQ; www.ace-ed.org.uk