Welsh school expulsion rates are higher than those of inner London's, Karen Thornton reports
More pupils are being expelled from schools in rural parts of Wales than from the country's cities and urban valleys. And in Gwynedd and Anglesey, the proportion of secondary pupils excluded is higher than in inner London, according to a TES Cymru comparison.
The figures emerged as teachers, education officers and support workers met in Llandudno yesterday to discuss behaviour and attendance issues.
Last year, there were 439 permanent exclusions in Wales. Nearly two in five were of children with special needs, and 21 reception children aged four or five were expelled. Overall, exclusions were down six on 2001-02, but up from around 340 in 1999-00.
Nearly one in three pupils was excluded for violence towards staff or classmates, and one in 10 for substance abuse. Disruptive behaviour (13 per cent), defiance of rules (18 per cent), and threatening or dangerous behaviour (14 per cent) were the next largest groups of violations.
Gwynedd and Anglesey's secondary schools permanently excluded 4.2 in every 1,000 children, compared to a Welsh average of 1.7, 3.0 in inner London - and only 0.1 in Pembrokeshire.
A Gwynedd spokeswoman said the authority was reviewing its behaviour support plan and hoped to reduce the figures. No one was available to comment from Anglesey.
Margaret McGowan, of the Advisory Centre for Education, a charity offering advice to parents of excluded and special needs children, said the stereotypical image of expelled youngsters as tough inner-city thugs was misplaced.
"Often schools in leafy areas are less equipped to deal with children who bring a problem to school. Exclusion can be more devastating in rural areas because there may be no alternative school to go to, or it's so far away that the child is isolated from their community."
But Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, said: "I have spoken to heads and teachers in Gwynedd and Anglesey and exclusion is not something they take lightly.
Unruly elements are not confined to towns and cities."
Several south Wales valley authorities also had above-average secondary exclusion rates, such as Neath Port Talbot (3.8 per cent) and Caerphilly (3.2 per cent). But neighbouring Rhondda Cynon Taff (0.1 per cent) has so far excluded only one pupil this year - down from 56 seven years ago.
The key, says Ceirion Williams, head of the council's behaviour support service, has been building up trust with local heads.
"We have a well-defined system. All our heads signed up to it. If a permanent exclusion seems likely, we meet to discuss support."
His 50-strong team offers one-to-one sessions in schools; alternative provision at local colleges or pupil referral centres; home tuition and extended work placements; and "managed moves" to other schools.
Steve Bowden, head of Porth community school and secretary of RCT's association of secondary heads, said the service offered options for pupils when schools had run out of their own solutions.
"Exclusion is still a sanction if there is nothing else we can do. But if we can, we avoid that stigma being attached to the pupils when they leave the school, and we can move them on to a more appropriate curriculum for their needs."
A Welsh Assembly government spokewoman said its latest guidance, published in January, highlights the need for schools to avoid exclusions where possible.
She added; "It may be necessary for some schools to exclude more frequently than others due to the levels of problems which they face with individual pupils, which are generally higher in areas of high deprivation.
"However, there are many good examples in Wales of schools and authorities in areas of high deprivation having very low exclusion rates."