Education ministers say figures show their behaviour policies are working. Michael Shaw reports.
The number of children excluded from schools has dropped for the first time in four years, following a government drive to improve pupil behaviour.
Statistics published yesterday by the Department for Education and Skills show that primary, secondary and special schools in England permanently excluded 9,290 pupils in 200203, nearly 3 per cent fewer than in the previous year.
DfES officials claim the fall shows that learning mentors and a range of other behaviour-related initiatives are succeeding in reducing misconduct in schools.
The figures also suggest that fewer excluded pupils have been readmitted to their schools since appeals panels were reformed last year.
The panels must now include at least one headteacher and governor and are not allowed to overrule an exclusion because of minor technical mistakes made by the school.
The number of pupils who appealed against their exclusion dropped by 5 per cent last year to 1,074, and the proportion who won appeals fell from 24 to 21 per cent.
Appeals panels can now rule that a student was unfairly excluded, but should not return to the school because relations have broken down irretrievably.
Figures collected for the first time by the DfES show that nearly 30 per cent of the students whose appeals succeeded last year were not readmitted to their schools.
The Government has been running a pound;470 million campaign to improve behaviour and attendance in schools and has paid for 3,800 learning mentors in primary and secondary schools through its Excellence in Cities scheme.
A DfES spokesman said that learning mentors were "among the unsung heroes in schools". "The figures suggest we are seeing the effect of learning mentors and other support staff who are working with those children at risk of being excluded to nip problems in the bud," he said.
Improved behaviour may not be the only reason for the slight fall in permanent exclusions; total pupil numbers fell last year and local authorities are increasingly transferring pupils between schools rather than excluding them.
A report published this week by the National Union of Teachers said that schools were increasingly reluctant to exclude pupils because they would lose funding.