Home-school links have enabled London schools to buck the trend. Al Constantine reports
THE PANIC has eased on exclusions now that the Government has relaxed the strict demands it issued last summer.
Charles Clarke, then a junior education minister, wrote to schools in July exhorting them to cut the number of pupils sent home by a third by 2002.
However, headteachers expressed concern about the bureaucracy of fixed-term exclusions, as laid out in the Department for Education and Employment's circular 1099.
Then last month, the Prime Minister, in an exclusive interview with The TES, announced a U-turn. While the Government still wants exclusions cut, pupils could be ordered out of school for first-time offences involving violence; fixed-term exclusions would be referred to governors' discipline committees only after pupils had been excluded for more than 15 days per term, not five as before.
Coincidence or not, it is in the two London boroughs most familiar to Tony Blair that a down-to-earth approach has produced encouraging results - in some schools exclusions have been eliminated altogether.
Alarmed by the increase in short-term exclusions in
Islington and Westminster, the
London Diocesan Board for Schools set up a home
liaison project in 1995.
The idea was simple: each of the 10 schools participaing
initially was provided with a part-time worker whose brief was to support their schools for up to three days a week.
Workers have been drawn from a range of professional backgrounds and include social workers and educational psychologists, doctoral students working in educational or social research, former special needs teachers, refugee support workers, drama therapists and others.
They have a semi-autonomous role which is seen by project leaders as a crucial element in building trust with children, parents and other teachers, helping as it does to secure confidentiality.
By turns, the project workers have become part-counsellor, part-social worker, part-legal adviser, part-administrator - in short, whatever it takes to address the problem in hand.
There are now 25 primaries and secondaries taking part in the project and many are reporting significant reductions in their exclusion rates.
Dr Sue Hallam of London's Institute of Education, who recently led an evaluation of the project, believes it could now be considered for more widespread use across the country. "I think the project has been very worthwhile particularly in London where pupils often cross borough boundaries and where educational systems are more fragmented than elsewhere," she said.
The school-home liaison project, tel: 0171 262 5352