MINISTERS are taking the credit for a massive drop in exclusion rates, saying it is due to the extra investment and support they have provided for disruptive pupils to remain in schools.
But teacher organisations say the reduction has led to increased stress for members, forced to deal with badly behaved children in their classes who would previously have been expelled.
Permanent expulsions are down from 12,300 in 1997-98 to 10,400 last year - a 15 per cent fall. Exclusions rose steadily during the 1990s, from around 3,000 in 1990-91 to a peak of 12,700 in 1996-97.
Exclusions of black pupils, previously four times more likely to be excluded, are also down, although they continue to be disproportionately high.
The Government has asked local education authorities with high rates of black exclusions to produce action plans.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith said: "During the early 90s, there was very little in-school help and too many excluded pupils were left to their own devices.
"This fall is being accompanied by decisive action both to get disruptive pupils out of the classroom and to ensure that excluded pupils get a full-time education."
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said:
"The cost of this substantial reduction has been an increase in the difficult job for schools of maintaining discipline and behaviour policies.
"There's no question that the decrease will have been accompanied by an increase in head and teacher stress."
The Government has asked all local education authorities to provide a full timetable for all excluded pupils by 2002 and is providing the resources for this to happen.
Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: "To achieve David Blunkett's targets to reduce exclusions, schools are under increasing pressure to keep disruptive children in the classroom or in the school, to the detriment of the learning of others and also to the detriment of their own education.
"It is unacceptable for Government and local education to undermine the management role and experience of headteachers in this way."