Labour reaches out to the excluded

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Schools should get more cash to help cope with disaffected children. Biddy Passmore and David Henderson report

The scandal of a growing army of excluded pupils roaming the streets should come to an end if the Government succeeds in meeting the recommendations of the first report from its Social Exclusion Unit.

By 2002, the aim is that all pupils excluded from school for more than three weeks will receive "alternative full-time and appropriate education". Many excluded pupils - a disproportionate number of them black, with special needs, or in care - receive as little as three or four hours' tuition a week. Many turn to crime.

The Government intends to find money in its comprehensive spending review to increase support for this group, whether in pupil-referral units or schools, or in a mixture of further education college and work placements.

Schools receiving excluded pupils might get "dowries". And the Government says local authorities should look at options offered by the voluntary sector that could be more effective and cheaper.

"If a child is excluded at the moment, they drift into a sort of never-never land getting very little education at all. That is not acceptable," said Stephen Byers, schools standards minister, and head of a truancy and exclusion task force.

Another key government aim is to cut by one-third the number of pupils being permanently excluded - put at 13,500 last year, up more than 10,000 since 1990.

This first report from the Prime Minister's Social Exclusion Unit shows wide variations in exclusion rates. One-quarter of secondary schools is responsible for two-thirds of permanent exclusions, and one-quarter does not exclude at all. "Some schools are using it where others cope," Mr Byers said.

* Scotland is "ahead of the game" and on target to cut exclusions by a third, Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said this week.

The Scottish Office recently issued new guidelines for schools in the wake of a pound;3 million grant scheme to pilot alternatives to exclusion, a process first begun under the Conservatives.

Eighteen councils have grabbed a share of the cash and are now working on projects that help keep pupils in education. The initiative follows further advice issued last December on attendance, absence and attainment.

Mr Wilson also said Scotland already had laws allowing police to stop and question children they suspect of truancy.

The importance of the attack on exclusions was underlined by the presence of Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, at a national conference in Edinburgh last month. He told teachers that exclusion should only be used as a last resort to deter misbehaviour and safeguard other pupils and staff.

Mr Dewar said the Government was building on extensive research by Professor Pamela Munn of Moray House Institute.


* number of permanent exclusions and time lost to truancy to be cut by one-third by 2002 * national targets to be broken down into local authority targets, highest for the worst performers * all excluded pupils to receive full-time education by 2002 * police to have power to pick up truants during anti-truancy drives * 50 per cent of children in care to have a qualification by 2001, and 75 per cent by 2003

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