A LONDON borough is reversing the tide of rising exclusions by closing its special schools and behaviour support centres.
Instead, unruly children in Merton are being dealt with in mainstream schools using a variety of teaching methods and approaches designed to bring the disaffected and disruptive into line.
The success of such methods may provide a blueprint for teachers elsewhere. Every year about 12,000 pupils are permanently excluded from English schools, and many never return to full-time education in other schools.
A report from the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education in Bristol has described the methods being used in Merton schools as "providing timely encouragement and useful information to contribute to a reversal of the worrying national trend".
The report states: "Merton's experience demonstrates that it is possible - even despite the contrary pressures in force at the time - to implement effectively an inclusive response to disaffection and disruption which concentrates on building the capacity of schools rather then excluding pupils."
Progress already made has enabled education chiefs to close an off-site behaviour support centre and a primary special school for children with emotional and behaviour problems, following a sharp decrease in referrals.
The scheme relies on preventative methods, such as helping schools to develop whole-school behaviour codes, training teachers to improve their classroom management skills and providing direct support to individual pupils.
It is underpinned by a peripatetic unit of experts made up of special needs teachers, youth workers and education social workers, called the Attendance and Behaviour Support Service (ABSS), whose services are available to all schools.
Teenagers targeted as in danger of exclusion are offered individual learning programmes with part-time or full-time placements at further education or adult colleges, or on work experience.
Younger children are integrated into primary schools but with high levels of support from professionals from the ABSS who work with the classroom teacher monitoring and analysing the child's progress.
Children who have already been excluded are tracked and monitored and there is an advice hot-line for heads who are considering expelling a pupil. Of 13 calls received, only two children were eventually excluded.
The average length of temporary exclusions has also fallen. In December 1996, the average time out of school was 40 days, compared with 23 days a year later.
Linda Shaw, co-director of the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education, said: "We believe it a matter of human rights for children with disabilities - and that would include those with emotional and behaviour problems - to be taught in mainstream schools and this is an example of good practice."
The CSIE report Disaffection and Inclusion: Merton's mainstream approach to difficult behaviour is published on July 10 and available from CSIE, 1, Redland Close, Bristol BS6 6UE, price Pounds 7 inc pp.