More and more schools are resorting to exclusion as the only effective sanction against disruptive pupils, according to a new, nationwide survey of local authorities.
The findings, compiled by Dr Carl Parsons of Kent university, are based on responses from 92 local authorities and directly contradict figures due to be published by the Government next week. Dr Parsons' survey shows that the trend toward permanent exclusions in 1995-96 has moved relentlessly upward: 13, 400 children were ejected this year, a rise of 8 per cent on last year. The Department for Education and Employment figures are expected to show that exclusions are stabilising at around 11,000.
The new figures are also more recent than the DFEE's, which relate to the previous year (1994-95). Dr Parsons is a respected researcher on exclusion who carried out a similar survey for the DFEE two years ago.
His findings are likely to exacerbate anxiety about school discipline, embarrassing the Government and coinciding with the news that 12 pupils have been excluded permanently from The Ridings school in Halifax in an attempt to defuse the crisis there.
While the Government's figures are based on a census of schools carried out in January, Dr Parsons' survey is based on reporting of exclusions by local authorities. Dr Parsons said he suspected that schools were under-reporting exclusions as he attempted to explain the discrepancy between his findings and the DFEE's. "Schools are wary of being seen to resort to exclusion, there's a motivation for them to under-report; you could say that LEAs are motivated to over-report, but the mechanism makes this difficult because exclusions only go on the database when they are confirmed." His findings, he suggested, were therefore likely to be more reliable. "The figures that the Government is putting out are suspiciously reassuring in the present crisis," he said.
According to Dr Parsons, exclusions leapt by 32 per cent between 199192 and 199293. The increase from 199394 to 199495 was 11 per cent and has leapt another 8 per cent this year. So the rate of increase is slowing, but the trend continues upwards.
More than 80 per cent of permanent exclusions are from secondary schools. Primary exclusions are growing although they form a slightly diminishing proportion of the total. Figures show 1,794 primary pupils were excluded this year (13 per cent); 11,094 secondary (83 per cent) and 531 from special schools (4 per cent).
At primary level, boys account for 93 per cent of exclusions, and 81 per cent of exclusions at secondary level. There is a concentration of exclusions from the final two years of schooling, and although all exclusions are for bad behaviour, there are wide variations in explanations of possible causes for it.
Dr Parsons draws attention to the limbo into which excluded children fall. "The law offers little protection to a child's rights to education. It will amaze many that two hours a week home tuition (perhaps less) will be sufficient to fulfil any legal obligations for the provision of education to excluded pupils, amongst the most troubled youngsters in our society."
He calls for a change in the law to secure the right to full-time education for these children, but "schools cannot cope with the problem alone. It is simply beyond their means . . . it is a multi-agency problem." The present situation amounts to "communal neglect", he said, especially as these children often have special needs. The Government must come up with new money, he insisted. "While 13,000 children may sound a lot it is not that great a number in the context of the whole school population.
"Our institutions are not coping with these children, some of whom are quite vulnerable, and their plight is a source of professional and political shame."