IF there is a school league table in which we stand out in Europe it is the one headed pupil exclusions. We are the worst by far. Even within these isles, expulsion rates in England are 10 times those of Northern Ireland and four times those of Scotland. For every permanent exclusion there are 10 or 11 temporary ones. And no one knows how many parents are persuaded to withdraw their children unofficially and drop them into educational limbo.
Excluded children are invariably those who can least afford to have their schooling disrupted or to be left to their own devices all day long. Most are low attainers, children with learning difficulties or disabilities or those in local authority care. African-Caribbean boys are over-represented two or threefold. For teachers, exclusion is a sad and discomforting ending. For the excluded it is frequently just the start of something far worse: neglect by the education service and all too often a future involving teenage parenthood, homelessness, unemployment, abuse of drink and drugs or periods in prison.
The Government insists local authorities must provide these children with full-time education. But as the Audit Commision demonstrates, almost none of them do. There are honourable exceptions. But two out of three authorities are not even managing 10 hours a week let alone the Government's target for 2002 of 25 hours.
Prevention is better than cure. So it is right that authorities should also be helping schools develop the professional skills to manage challenging behaviour. But it is unlikely that palliatives will succeed in every case. As the Government itself has had to admit, schools cannot be forced to keep children when an irrevocable breakdown occurs.
How far increasing competition between schools has resulted in a greater propensity to exclude should also be examined. But the abandonment of those who fall through the education net is a long-standing scandal that must now be urgently corrected.
Local authorities are supposed to ensure the needs of individual children are properly met. If they fail in that, the point of having them really should be questioned.
THE TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT Admiral House 66-68 East SmithfieldJLondon E1 9XY Telephone 020 7782 3000JFax 020 7782 3200 E-mail email@example.com 16 TES january 19 2001 www.tes.co.uk T