Success depends on schools, parents and at-risk pupils agreeing on a fresh start. William Stewart reports.
Permanent exclusions could virtually disappear within a decade, an expert predicted this week - if local education authorities adopt the policies of one council that has gone a year with none at all.
In North Lincolnshire's 84 schools, permanent exclusions dropped from 68 to zero in two years after it introduced a system of "managed moves" and "personalised education plans" as alternatives.
The figures for 2004-05 mark the first time that a local authority has managed to avoid permanent exclusions throughout an entire school year, with the exception of the City of London and Isles of Scilly, which have just one school each.
Adam Abdelnoor, chief executive of Inaura, an inclusion charity, said:
"This is fantastic. I am so pleased because permanent exclusions hurt children and their families."
He said that if other education authorities followed suit, permanent exclusions could be reduced to 100 or fewer within a decade. There were nearly 10,000 in England in 2003-04.
Last year, the charity reported that 54 of England's 150 authorities were already using some form of "managed move". This involved all interested parties - including parents - agreeing to give pupils a fresh start at a new school. Inaura predicts that there will be 15,000 managed moves a year by 2015. The charity has been at the forefront of promoting the policy, sometimes known as "managed transfers".
In North Lincolnshire, where most schools are in deprived Scunthorpe, it decided to adopt the strategy three years ago. Daryl Summers, the council's head of inclusion, said: "We felt that 68 permanent exclusions in an authority with only 14 secondary schools was unacceptably high."
Exclusions in primary schools were already low, and the opening of two learning support units with outreach workers has brought them down to zero.
The education authority brought behaviour consultants into secondaries to work with heads and parents to help them move from a culture of blame, where children were penalised for behaving badly, to one that focused on positive solutions.
Now, pupils who might have been expelled in the past are moved to another school andor have personalised education plans drawn up.
The plan could include full- or part-time work-based learning or attendance at a further education college, or at a private health and beauty training centre.
In a minority of cases, it could mean going to a school set up to deal with behavioural difficulties or, for key stage 3 pupils, a maximum of two terms in a pupil referral unit.
Ms Summers said: "It is not necessarily about sending them somewhere to deal with challenging behaviour because often that will disappear anyway as soon as they are somewhere better suited to their needs."
Mr Abdelnoor said: "We look for the solution instead of the punishment. If North Lincolnshire can do this, why can't everybody else? But there is one note of caution: it is essential that the managed moves are voluntary."
Ms Summers said that parents did not have to accept the change of school, but given that the alternative was permanent exclusion none had so far turned it down.
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