Headteachers claim it's not because primary children have become more badly behaved, but because school management has become braver in taking action to exclude pupils
There has been a big increase in exclusions from Scottish primary schools, and new figures also show that overall rates continue to rise.
There were 42,990 exclusions in all local authority schools in 2005-06, an increase of 2 per cent on 2004-05. But Scottish Executive figures released this week also showed 5,779 exclusions from primary schools, an increase of 9 per cent.
About 22,500 pupils, or 3 per cent of the school population, were excluded, of which 59 per cent only once and 19 per cent twice. Boys continue to be responsible for most exclusions (78 per cent), although that figure has dropped from 81 per cent in 1999-2000. There was a 3 per cent decrease in permanent exclusions - from 271 to 264 - although these made up less than 1 per cent of all exclusions.
The figures also showed that pupils with additional support needs were far more likely to be excluded in mainstream classes than in special schools, while exclusions among pupils deemed to have a disability was 50 per cent higher than among other pupils.
Those who were registered for free school meals, had additional support needs, and looked after by the local authority, had an exclusion rate 15 times that of pupils in none of these categories.
There was also a wide divergence in the number of exclusions in different parts of Scotland. There were 60 exclusions per 1,000 pupils across all schools but, while Orkney recorded only six per 1,000 pupils, Dundee had 122 per 1,000.
Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, felt that the increase in primary schools was largely explained by the decision of Peter Peacock, the former education minister, to scrap targets for reducing exclusions.
"I don't really believe it's because primary pupils have become much more wicked," he said. "I suspect it's because headteachers and school leaders have become much braver in taking the action of exclusion, following the Scottish Executive's decision to remove the barrier on exclusion."
He added that schools could only operate in the society they were surrounded by, and pointed to the pressures created by a more widespread loss of discipline and the breakdown of families.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scot-land, stressed that exclusion rates rose sharply in P7 and continued to do so until the third year of secondary education.
He said that more research was needed on the problems posed by pupils at these ages, but added: "It may be not much more than issues of adolescence taking place earlier than used to be the case."
Mr Smith emphasised that many pupils were only excluded once or twice, meaning that it was an option for schools that "might not be entirely ineffective."
He added: "It's also interesting that the least likely to be excluded among additional support needs are those within special classes."
Mr Smith believed this questioned the validity of the notion that "come hell or high water, a pupil is to be placed in what we would call a mainstream class".
Jim Docherty, depute general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'
Association, was concerned that indisicipline in classrooms was the main factor in deterring potential teachers from joining the profession. He said that other European countries had more effective ways of tackling indiscipline, with some taking sanctions against parents at an early stage.
Fiona Hyslop, the SNP shadow education minister, expressed concern at the increase in exclusions from primary schools, and said that reducing class sizes to 18 pupils in primaries one to three would help reduce indiscipline.